CHICAGO – A judge Thursday threw out the arrests of more than 90 Occupy Chicago protesters in a city park and ruled that the curfew for the area was unconstitutional.
Cook County Associate Judge Thomas Donnelly said in his ruling that the city often chooses not to enforce the curfew for events it supports. The arrests last October came after hundreds of members of Occupy Chicago refused to take down tents and leave Grant Park when it closed at 11 p.m.
Donnelly compared the protests to President Barack Obama’s victory rally in the same park in 2008.
“The city arrested no one at the Obama 2008 presidential election victory rally, even though the Obama rally was equally in violation of the curfew,” Donnelly wrote.
Roderick Drew, spokesman for Chicago’s Law Department, said the city will file an appeal.
“The city is disappointed with the decision,” Drew said.
Sarah Gelsomino, a People’s Law Office attorney representing the protesters, said the activists were legally participating in free speech.
“Hopefully this sends a clear message to the city that they must better respect the First Amendment rights of protesters no matter what their message might be,” Gelsomino said.
The protesters were an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement and were demonstrating against corporate greed.
The ruling is an embarrassment to the police department, which has come under fire for its handling of protests dating back to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when officers clashed violently with demonstrators.
Earlier this year, the city decided to settle a lawsuit for $6.2 million in connection with the arrest of 700 people during a 2003 Iraq war demonstration. The settlement came after a federal judge called the department’s handling of the protests “idiotic.”
Thursday’s ruling was also a rebuke of something that Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was clearly proud of: the department’s handling of the Occupy protests.
In interviews leading up to this spring’s NATO Summit, McCarthy boasted that the department had shown it was up to the task of handling demonstrators during the Occupy protests. McCarthy praised his department for treating the protesters as individuals and his officers for keeping their calm, saying that not only were arrests made calmly and methodically, but protesters were arrested only after receiving repeated warnings.
Anti-war and gay rights activist Andy Thayer, who was among those arrested last October, said Thursday’s ruling provided a sharply different view and was a slap to the city’s police and political leadership.
“It demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt just what a flagrant violation of people’s rights these arrests were,” he said. “The city was busy patting itself on the back about how they had handled the Occupy protests, and it puts the lie to their claims ... about respecting people’s rights.”