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Emanuel invites trouble with plan for NATO, G8

Updated: January 26, 2012 8:04AM

Presumably as part of his long-term plan to run for president, Mayor Rahm Emanuel managed to bring the unique but risky combination of the international G8 and NATO summit meetings to Chicago next May.

There is some obvious prestige for the city in hosting these events, though the economics are dubious. But there would be even more glory for Emanuel if all went well — even moderately well — considering that history shows much violence and damage stemming from the massive protests these meetings generate and battles between police and protesters.

We don’t yet know all the details of how Emanuel plans to handle the protests: Will he easily grant the protesters marching and meeting permits, including adequate space proximate to the G8/NATO meetings? Will he make efforts to assure their voices will be heard? After all, Time magazine just named protesters everywhere the “persons of the year.”

I don’t think we need these “prestigious” events held here, but it’s a done deed. What troubles me more is the first move Emanuel is taking by proposing a series of threatening, and repressive — if not outright dangerous — ordinances.

During the time the meetings are here he wants a huge boost in fines for “resisting or obstructing” the work of anyone “known to the person to be a peace officer.” Currently the range of fines is $25 to $500; Emanuel wants this increased to $200 to $1,000. Just imagine lengthy detention of a host of foreigners who can’t pay the fines!

Does he really think heavier fines will stop more people from either demonstrating or misbehaving? I suppose that’s his hope — just as supporters of the death penalty wrongly believe it deters killing.

Worse yet, Emanuel’s proposal permits our new police chief to deputize a wide range of additional law enforcement personnel and contract for installation of audio and video spying equipment. Some of those newly deputized folk may not be easily recognizable (or well trained), which could create lot of confusion for protesters who might “resist or obstruct” their work.

The most pointless of his measures would change the opening hours of beaches and parks from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. Why?

What he ought to do is open a park and beach all night for the protesters. That would have avoided many problems back in 1968. Emanuel should learn from history.

Questions were raised about the constitutionality of a special set of ordinances aimed at a specific event such as this, but several eminent First Amendment authorities, including Professor Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School, assure me that as long as the ordinances are enforced equally they are constitutional.

That still does not make them wise. Who trusts Chicago Police — let alone whomever they deputize — to enforce laws equally?

At a time when Emanuel should be figuring out how to reduce friction and avoid the problems of his mayoral predecessors, he is drawing provocative, bullying lines in the sand with high potential for making a bad idea worse. His ordinances should be defeated.

Don Rose is a Chicago-based political consultant. This essay ran first online in the Chicago Daily Observer.

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