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Alderman wants to keep social media on during NATO/G8

Ald. Ricardo Munoz

Ald. Ricardo Munoz

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Updated: February 29, 2012 8:04AM

In Egypt, cell phones, text messages and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter were such powerful protest organizing tools, they helped topple a government.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) wants to make certain the same tools are available to Chicago protesters during the May 19-21 NATO and G-8 summits.

At the Feb. 15 City Council meeting, Munoz plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit the Chicago Police Department from attempting to cut off access to social networking sites and cell phone networks during the back-to-back summits at McCormick Place — even though Chicago Police say they have no such plans.

“Social media sites are more than information-sharing tools. They are also organizing tools. They’re fundamental to our right to free speech and public assembly,” said Munoz, who voted for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s watered-down protest restrictions.

The alderman noted that the Chicago meeting will be the first G-8 summit on American soil in the age of Twitter.

“This is a pre-emptive marker. Law enforcement already has the tools to deal with criminal behavior. We shouldn’t be shutting down free speech,” he said.

“Everybody’s first response is, ‘That can’t happen here.’ But just last year, the San Francisco Police Department interrupted cell phone communication to disrupt an anti-police brutality protest simply by turning off the power to cell phone towers. That’s how easy it is.”

Police Department spokesperson Melissa Stratton released a one-line statement in response to the alderman’s concerns.

“There has been no discussion at the Chicago Police Department in this regard and we don’t have any plans to do this,” she said.

Blocking social media would only invite a repeat of the City Council rebellion that twice forced the mayor to water down his plan to handle thousands of protesters expected to descend on Chicago.

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields urged the mayor to use whatever tools he has available “within the framework of the Constitution” to prevent the demonstrators from outnumbering police.

“Social networking allows protesters to assemble in a much faster way than they did in 1968,” Shields said, referring to the infamous clashes between anti-Vietnam War protesters and Chicago Police during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

“Look at 2003 and how quickly demonstrators realized that the goal [of Iraq War protesters] was to close down Lake Shore Drive. What’s gonna be the goal at G-8 and NATO with a much more violent crowd? If there’s something within the Constitution that allows the city to prevent violence, we should do it.”

The FOP has already complained about inadequate training for the summits.

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