Judge Overturns Arrests of Occupy Chicago Protesters

Credit: Chicagoist / Aaroncynic[/caption]

Cook County Associate Judge Thomas Donnelly overturned 92 arrests of Occupy Chicago protesters on Thursday. The arrests took place last year as the protesters gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park in October. Police made the arrests when the crowd failed to vacate the park by the 11 pm curfew. In total, 303 arrests were made over two nights.

Donnelly based his opinion on Barack Obama’s 2008 Grant Park victory speech, which ran from approximately 10:57 PM until 11:20 PM. No arrests were made during Obama’s gathering, illustrating a double-standard of enforcing this particular park district ordinance:

The City treated two similarly situated groups differently. But that alone does not suffice to show an Equal Protection violation; Defendants must show that the differing treatment was based on clearly the exercise of First Amendment rights. Nevertheless, even with only three instances before the court (the two Occupy protests and the Obama rally), there is a clear pattern; no arrests when 500,000 people remain in the park past the curfew for the Obama rally, 100% non-enforcement of the curfew; and all 303 who remained after being asked to leave on the two nights, 100% enforcement of the curfew.

This ruling poses a dilemma between the right to free speech and the need for public safety, particularly in a city with one of the highest crime rates in the country. The ruling also dampens praise previously bestowed upon Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy for his hands-on leadership in the NATO Summit protests this past May.

“(The curfew)’s gone, unless the city appeals and wins,” Attorney Burt Odelson explained to the Chicago Sun-Times. “Bring you friends and a band and a barbecue and you’re good to go.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed to fight the ruling:

“I don’t think this is the last word. We’re gonna appeal the decision because we believe the ordinance is on firm ground as it relates to both public safety and First Amendment rights.”

The mayor’s persistence has been tested by numerous issues as of late. His implementation of school zone speed cameras was derailed earlier this month by a 1974 Attorney General’s opinion and his push for casinos in Illinois was vetoed by Governor Pat Quinn. Donnelly’s ruling will be the third decision on Emanuel’s plate to contest.