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Rahm Emanuel backs off stiff fines for G-8, NATO protesters

Eric Ruder from CoalitiAgainst NATO/G8 AgendWar Poverty  speaks MayorRahm  Emanuel's new ordinancesprotests January. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Eric Ruder from the Coalition Against NATO/G8 Agenda of War and Poverty speaks on MayorRahm Emanuel's new ordinanceson protests in January. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 19, 2012 8:11AM

In a surprise retreat, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday abruptly canceled plans to dramatically increase fines for resisting arrest to appease aldermen and protesters concerned he was trampling First Amendment rights in the name of securing the NATO and G-8 summits.

“You listen to people and you hear them. … I haven’t changed the objective. I’ve listened to them and I’ve made the kinds of changes that are necessary,” the mayor said.

“The goal is to host world leaders in Chicago. The goal is for people to have an ability to express their views and … also have a respect for the law. And that will be accomplished.”

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the latest in a series of NATO and G-8 security concessions shows that City Hall is “listening to the voice of the people, quite frankly.”

He added, “We don’t want to give the impression that we’re looking to do anything about the First Amendment except protect it. It’s really that simple. Even if it’s just a perception issue, we want to avoid that.”

Emanuel has run into a buzz saw of opposition from aldermen and protesters who contend he is attempting to stifle dissent for years to come in his preparation for the May 19-to-21 summits expected to draw President Barack Obama and other world leaders to McCormick Place.

Last week, City Hall blinked by modifying the mayor’s proposed parade restrictions and fines, issuing the first of at least four parade permits and offering to provide free sound equipment and port-a-potties to the protesters.

On Tuesday, Emanuel waved the white flag again — this time, on the item that has drawn the most heat: dramatically higher fines for resisting arrest.

The mayor’s original plan called for fines ranging from $200 to $1,000 for resisting arrest. The new version will remove those higher fines entirely. They will remain at $25 to $500, where they have been for years.

The changes were enough to satisfy the City Council’s Committee on Budget and Government Operations, which ratified the mayor’s modified security plan.

But, they did not appease a diverse coalition of protesters, labor and community leaders. They won’t be satisfied until all of the proposed restrictions are dropped.

Surviving measures include: more surveillance cameras; parks and beaches closed until 6 a.m.; sweeping parade restrictions and higher fees for those events and empowering McCarthy to “deputize” out-of-state law enforcement personnel experienced in handling civil unrest.

The mayor would also be granted sweeping authority to purchase goods and services for the summits — without City Council approval or competitive bidding — provided those items cannot be purchased under existing contracts.

“If these ordinances pass ... all bets are off. If the federal government decides to nix the permit we’ve already received, all bets are off. Why should people respect the law if the law does not respect them?” said Andy Thayer, a spokesman for the Coalition Against the NATO G-8 War and Poverty Agenda.

“So I put the onus on the City Council, on Mayor Emanuel and President Obama. If you cancel peoples’ constitutional rights tomorrow or in the future, the onus is on you for what happens.”

Evelyn Dehais, of Occupy Chicago, said it’s “shameful” that Emanuel is seeking to “codify the suppression of peaceful protest” during the same week that the nation celebrates the champion of peaceful dissent, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“The 99 percent have been disproportionately affected by Rahm’s cuts to education, public health care and public sector jobs. And now, the mayor wants them to sit down and shut up,” Dehais said.

“With smug disregard for the struggles of ordinary Chicagoans, the mayor again demonstrates his role as a goon for the one percent.”

Deb Kirby, chief of international relations for the Chicago Police Department, estimated that as many as 10,000 protesters would descend on Chicago to protest the back-to-back summits.

That prompted Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) to warn, “These aren’t the home-grown, backyard, vegetable garden protesters. They’re gonna be coming from Europe. They’re gonna be coming from Asia. And they’re gonna be coming from Latin America.”

In spite of Burke’s warning and Thayer’s thinly veiled threat of mayhem, McCarthy said the power to deputize out-of-state officers is simply a “fallback.” He hopes to get by without outside help by putting the “entire department” on 12-hour tours of duty for the duration of the summit.

If reinforcements become necessary, only trained, certified law enforcement officers would be deputized, and Chicago Police officers would “maintain sole responsibility for ensuring public safety,” the superintendent said.

“Any officers brought in under this authority would not be used in the neighborhoods,” McCarthy said. “I do not anticipate, nor do I want to put them on the front lines engaging in affirmative police work.”

Last week, top mayoral aides acknowledged that Chicago would spend $40 million to $65 million to host the NATO and G-8 summits, but insisted that federal reimbursements and private donations would ultimately prevent local taxpayers from getting stuck with the tab.

The guarantee had a hollow ring, considering that former Mayor Richard M. Daley once promised to spend “not even a dime” of taxpayers’ money to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, only to sign a host-city contract that amounted to an open-ended guarantee from local taxpayers.

Chicago’s first-round flame-out in the Olympic sweepstakes ultimately made the promise moot.

On Tuesday, Gary Schenkel, executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, noted that “after-the-fact, money may be available through a variety of federal agencies ... We’ll pursue any and all opportunities. But again, it is reimbursement after the fact.”

Emanuel sought to differentiate his promise from Daley’s.

“The U.S. government is hosting world leaders in Chicago. The good news is the taxpayers won’t pay for this. There’ll be a contribution by the federal government and contributions by private sources to do it,” the mayor said.

“We haven’t had a convention like that. That’s a great opportunity for city taxpayers. When you bring people in from around the world who will come here for tourism, that’s a huge economic gain. We’ll make sure that taxpayers don’t take on the bill.”

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) expressed concern about the mayor’s plan to keep parks closed until 6 a.m. — instead of the normal 4 a.m. opening — and the impact that delayed opening could have on joggers and bird watchers.

Police brass assured her that the delayed opening would be limited to “roughly four very small city-owned parks”: at Chicago and State; Randolph and Franklin; Irving and Western and 518 S. State.

At a separate hearing on the new parade ordinance, Hairston also warned that the revised parade restrictions could “put local parades out of business.”

They include: an 8 a.m.-to-10 p.m. restriction on the use of amplified sound; a $200 minimum fine and a $50 permit fee and a requirement that parade organizers describe in their permit application sound equipment and signs too large to be carried by one person.

“I’ve got a 4th of July [parade] on 53rd Street, and it’s a real community event. We don’t know how many people are gonna show up — kids on their bicycles. We don’t have an inventory of equipment. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. Will we be in violation?” Hairston said, recounting the arrest of a chaperone for the South Shore Drill team for allegedly violating the sound ordinance at last year’s Bud Billiken parade.

“We’re in the parking lot on parade day. The kids have their crayons and markers. They’re making signs. They’re making things to put on the back of their bikes. They’re kids. It might take a couple of kids to carry a sign. My [aldermanic] banner — four or five people carry the banner. Will I be in violation?”

A city attorney assured Hairston that she would not be in violation of the ordinance.

“There are many times where somebody may show up with equipment that cannot fit on the sidewalk. That would have to allow for use of the street. You would not be violation if somebody shows up with crayons,” the attorney said.

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