2024 DNC

Thousands of DNC protesters expected, raising questions about security, neighborhood impact

Pro-Palestinian protesters want to know what the security footprint will be around the United Center during the Democratic National Convention later this summer

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Pro-Palestinian protesters want to know what the security footprint will be around the United Center during the Democratic National Convention later this summer. Now, amid their ongoing legal battle with the city of Chicago, the protesters’ attorney is proposing to depose U.S. Secret Service agents and other decisionmakers to find out that information.

“We don't think it's the city hiding the ball. We think that the city is dependent on decisions made by other agencies in the city or federal agencies, FBI, Secret Service,” said Chris Williams, the attorney representing the Coalition to March on the DNC.

The coalition, which represents 125 protest organizations and counting, has been fighting a legal battle with the city over its denial of protest permits. The city declined the protesters’ request to set up at Union Park, just blocks away from the United Center, offering a spot several miles away on Columbus Drive instead. Protesters have maintained the spot near Grant Park is not a viable solution because it’s not within “sight and sound” of the convention hall.

“When you come to our city, you will hear our voices. You will see our banners and our signs. We will march within sight and sound of them because this is our right,” said Sahian Sotelo, an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society.

Settlement discussions surrounding the federal lawsuit are confidential, but Williams said the city has offered a new route that the coalition finds to be “positive” but not fully resolving the issue, as the number of protesters continues to grow to tens of thousands or more.

“The conditions on the ground have changed. You have to be sleepwalking to not have noticed that, and so as a result, the length of the march, the size of the streets on which the marches would go are of a concern,” Williams said.

During a hearing in federal court Tuesday, Williams proposed requesting documents and deposing federal officials to learn information about where the security perimeter is. He said he can't counter the city and propose new routes if he doesn't know the perimeter. Andrew Worseck, an attorney for the city, countered by saying he thinks the city has a route that is sufficiently close to the United Center and will "satisfy all the important factors in this case." Worseck said he doesn't think the protest groups need the information they're requesting because it will just slow down the process.

Protesters aren’t the only ones with concerns. Those who live and worship close to the United Center know they will be impacted by not just the convention itself but also the thousands of protesters.

Directly across the street from Union Park is First Baptist Congregational Church. Senior Pastor George Daniels remembers being in the city during what he called the “horrific” convention in 1968. Luckily, he said, things were peaceful during the more recent convention in 1996.

“(The 1996 convention) was a different climate, politically, socially,” he said. “But now, I think there's going to be radical boiling over, high tension. And so, I do have a concern as a pastor, as a church being in that footprint area.”

Daniels said Secret Service officials performed a walk-though of his church a few weeks ago, but they’re keeping their security plans tight-lipped. His concerns are for parishioners’ safety, the physical structure of the church and the ability for parishioners to attend Sunday worship services. Parishioners were able to attend worship services during the ‘96 convention, but he questions whether that will be the case this year.

“Based on the atmosphere, it may be a little more challenging to get within the perimeter area,” he said.

Ald. Walter Burnett, who lives near the United Center and also attends Daniels’ church, is also looking for answers on how residents within the security perimeter will be impacted. 

“We just want to know what the rules are. How we’re going to get around, how somebody’s going to deliver us food or whatever the case may be. Will we be able to get food delivered?” Burnett said.

With or without permits, the protesters have been saying for weeks that they will be making their voices heard at Union Park. However, having permits will make a huge difference, said Hatem Abudayyeh, the national chair of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network.

“We want seniors. We want children. We want people of all abilities to be comfortable knowing that they're not going to be attacked by police or by feds,” he said.

Federal Judge Andrea Wood has yet to rule on whether the protest groups’ attorney will be able to depose top federal officials to obtain the information they want. Wood set another court hearing for 9 a.m. on July 1.

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