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NATO/G8 protestors assert free speech rights

With Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announcing preparations for “mass arrests” of protestors at NATO and G8 summits in Chicago next May, a group of peace, labor, and community activists are calling on Mayor Emanuel to guarantee the right to free speech.

Activists including Rudy Lozano, Kathy Kelly, and SEIU Local 73 president Christine Boardman will deliver a letter to Emanuel on Thursday morning calling on him to “guarantee civil liberties” and issue permits for rallies and marches during the summits. A press conference is planned for 11:30 a.m., Thursday, July 28, on the fifth floor of City Hall.

In a release, the NATO/G8 Working Group points to the city’s “dismal track record of suppressing peaceful protestors” including “a decade-long effort to thwart peace activists’ right to assemble and march to oppose U.S. wars.”

“We have to train for mass arrests,” McCarthy told the Sun-Times recently, discussing preparations for the summit.  Protest organizer Joe Iosbaker told the paper he’s hoping for a peaceful demonstration – “we want our marches and rallies to be things that people can bring their children to” – but added, “We intend on having our rights respected.”

“We’re talking about a legal permitted march, and we have the police acting as if we’re going to riot,” said Pat Hunt of Chicago Area Code Pink.  “We consider [McCarthy’s comment] to be a threat – a threat to deny our right of free speech.”

McCarthy was with the New York City police in 2004 when hundreds of thousands of protestors marched on the Republican National Convention.  Police arrested 1,800 people, including many nonviolent protestors and nonparticipants, holding them in the three-block-long Hudson Pier Depot for days, until a federal judge ordered their release.

Only a handful were charged with any crimes.  Numerous lawsuits resulted.

In Chicago, a lawsuit is still pending from the arrest of over 800 nonviolent protestors and bystanders on March 20, 2003, at the time of the invasion of Iraq.  Since then peace groups have often struggled to get parade permits.

In one case organizers were arrested while holding a press conference on Michigan Avenue stating that a planned march had been moved due to lack of a permit.  In another case the city sued protest organizers after the city’s license commission agreed to issue a permit for a march in Pilsen.

In its letter, the Working Group raises the issue of costs for the city, pointing out that Pittsburgh spent $18 million on security to host the G20 summit in 2009, while closing highways, city streets, trains and bus routes around the summit.

Next year’s event is likely to cost more, they say.  (Moving the National Restaurant Association from McCormick Place that week is already costing $2 million, Greg Hinz reports.)

McCarthy’s comments came on the same day Emanuel threatened hundreds of layoffs of city workers in an attempt to save $10 million.

NATO and G8 exemplify agendas of militarism and austerity that “we feel are unjust,” said Hunt.  “We want to be there to present alternatives for more just ways of dealing with the problems we face as a world.”


[ADD]  McCarthy said he would be studying the experiences of Pittsburgh and Seattle, which hosted the World Trade Organization in 1999.  In Seattle, police declared a 25-square-block “no protest zone” and “deploy[ed] chemical weapons, rubber bullets and clubs against protestors and bystanders alike,” according to an ACLU report (pdf).

There were “hundreds of improper arrests, detaining for days people who would never stand trial.”  There were widespread reports of excessive force. “The demonstrators were overwhelmingly peaceful,” according to the report.  “Not so the police.”

While tens of thousands including labor unions and environmentalists protested, several thousand committed nonviolent civil disobedience, and (according to the ACLU) “several dozen people commit vandalism,” businesses reported losses of $20 million due to police closure of downtown Seattle.

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