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City: Mass Loop protest on NATO’s first day would ‘drain’ police resources

Andy Thayer center joins other activists outside City Chicago Central Hearing Facility Tuesday as they appeal city denial their requesed

Andy Thayer, center, joins other activists outside the City of Chicago Central Hearing Facility Tuesday as they appeal a city denial of their requesed protest march on the opening day of the NATO Summit. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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Updated: April 29, 2012 8:22AM

A middle-of-the-Loop protest rally and march on the opening day of the NATO summit would clog traffic and “drain” Chicago police resources as officers turn their attention to world leaders descending on the city and the Cubs and Sox squaring off at Wrigley Field — not to mention the regular duties throughout the city.

That’s the case Chicago officials made Tuesday before an administrative law judge hearing an appeal of the city’s decision to deny protesters a permit to march from Daley Plaza — which can hold a maximum 5,000 — south along State Street and Michigan Avenue to McCormick Place on May 20, opening day of the NATO summit.

The city would like protesters to step off from Butler Field in Grant Park — capacity 30,000 to 50,000 — and zig-zag their way along wider streets toward State Street to head south, again ending at the west entrance to McCormick Place, said Mike Simon, assistant transportation commissioner.

Moving the start of the protest route a bit east gives protesters more room to spread out while keeping much of the downtown center open, Simon said. With 5,000 expected to attend — including as many as 50 heads of state and other dignitaries — he said, “We have to keep all possible routes open to accommodate” the motorcades that serve as security for foreign leaders, not to mention President Barack Obama,who will return to his adopted home city for the event.

Jeffrey Frank, an attorney representing the protesters, pressed city officials for details about denying a permit when protesters got the green light to march along the same route — from Daley Center Plaza to McCormick Place — one day earlier, May 19, the day the now-moved G-8 summit was to have begun.

Debra Kirby, the police department’s chief of international relations, said the route protesters want would place a “significant drain” on resources.

She and others have argued that NATO would draw a larger number of dignitaries than the G-8.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered an explanation for the route change at an unrelated event Tuesday: “If you want to stay with the original application, no problem. If you change the date, the destination doesn’t change, [but] the route does to accommodate given the fact that you have about 150 dignitaries that you have [to] move,” he said.

Veteran protester Andy Thayer, no stranger to the march permit process, took the stand during Tuesday’s hearing and said the city’s alternative route will be less attractive to potential participants because it’s not as well-known and is farther from public transit stops. In addition, it moves the group from a higher-traffic, higher-profile area where their anti-war message might be heard by dignitaries and others.

“The First Amendment isn’t meaningful if you don’t have an audience to hear your views,” Thayer said.

Administrative Judge Raymond J. Prosser has up to two days to issue a decision and will release it, via email, to the parties involved.

Contributing:Fran Spielman, AP

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