The mass midnight arrests of Occupiers in October at Grant Park were ruled unconstitutional by a Chicago court Thursday. The two nights of actions were part of a spirited attempt to “Take the Horse” (a reference to The Bowman statue) and set up an encampment in Chicago.
In response, the Chicago Police Department alleged that protesters were violating the park’s 11 pm curfew and arrested over 300 people. But today’s ruling found that the curfew restricted free assembly and was unconstitutional when applied to the protesters.
The ruling comes on the heels of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, which many have concluded was a win for progressive forces in the city. Occupy Chicago and its public battles to retain space in the city as well as protest the closings of libraries and mental health clinics also openly challenged Rahm Emanuel and his austerity agenda.
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The case in City of Chicago v. Tieg Alexander et. al. argues that the city arbitrarily enforced its curfew because of the content of the protesters’ speech.
“Because parks constitute public forums for citizens to assemble and express political views, governments may institute content-neutral time, place or manner restrictions that tightly fit substantial government interests,” says the 37-page opinion by Judge Thomas Donnelly. “The City’s claim that citizen safety, park maintenance, and park preservation constitute the substantial government interests that justifies closing the park seven hours nightly fails because the City routinely closes the park for fewer than seven hours nightly, making ad hoc exceptions to the Curfew for permitted groups.”
“Judge Donnelly made the right decision by declaring the city’s ordinance unconstitutional and by dismissing the remaining cases brought by the city against activists legitimately engaged in free speech,” said National Lawyers Guild attorney Sarah Gelsomino from the People’s Law Office, one of the lawyers representing the charged activists, in a press release. “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.”
“We were arrested because we were doing something very threatening to the state, we were creating a peaceful social platform where the voices of the lower classes could be heard,” said Danielle Vilarreal, an Occupy Chicago member arrested on October 23.
“The whole city is getting tired of Rahm’s abuse of power,” reckons Andy Manos, another occupier arrested on the same night. “This is what we saw with the immense community support for the teacher’s strike. This what we saw back in January when we were able to mobilize the community against Rahm’s ‘sit down and shut up’ ordinances. And this is what we see now with the charges being dismissed.”