Faced with a firestorm of protests over First Amendment issues, Mayor Emanuel on Tuesday backed off on one provision of his proposals to control dissent during the upcoming G8 and NATO conferences in Chicago.
But protest leaders were not placated and virtually promised mayhem when the events take place May 19 and 20th.
"If these ordinances pass tomorrow, all bets are off," said protest organizer Andy Thayer. "Why should people respect the law if the law does not respect them?”
The mayor had proposed increased fines for those convicted of resisting arrest. He withdrew those proposals Tuesday, with police Supt. Garry McCarthy conceding that the city had done so in response to the complaints over civil liberties.
"We don’t want to give the impression that we’re looking to do anything about the First Amendment, except to protect it," McCarthy said. "What’s going to happen is we’re going to provide a safe environment to the best of our ability."
While the fine provisions were rolled back, the legislation presented to the City Council leaves intact stiffer hours for city parks and new authority for McCarthy to deputize out-of-state police officers to beef up his own ranks during the conferences in May.
"It would be used only if needed," McCarthy said. "Any officers brought in under this authority would not be used on a neighborhood basis."
McCarthy said he had no plans to use the Illinois National Guard.
During a City Council hearing, even some aldermen suggested that the administration was inviting trouble by tampering with existing rules on public gatherings.
"Clearly there is a delicate balance between First Amendment rights and public safety," said Ald. Margaret Lauriono (39th). Tom Tunney, who represents the 44th ward on the North Side, added: "The more we pressure First Amendment rights, the more people are going to react in a negative way."
Protesters packed the galleries of the council chamber, raucously shouting down provisions of the new ordinances, and demanding that aldermen reject the changes when the full body meets on Wednesday.
“I have a problem with you, City Council," said protester Mark Clements. "I’m asking you to vote ‘no’ on this dumb resolution!"
During the hearing, Deputy Chief Debra Kirby, who has direct oversight over the G8/NATO planning, said that the city expects as many as 10,000 protesters to descend on Chicago during the two events. She conceded that "some will be engaging in criminal activity."
But at the same time, Kirby went out of her way to say that many of the provisions of the ordinances were designed to protect First Amendment rights. Indeed, while she said many of the protests would be held as events requiring a permit, police were mindful of the fact that demonstrators had the First Amendment right to stage spontaneous protests outside of those designated events.
McCarthy said he was mindful of the violent demonstrations which had taken place at similar conferences in Seattle and Pittsburgh, but he insisted that his forces would react "differently, and better."
"We’ve learned from the past," McCarthy said. "We’re going to continue to evolve and make sure that we can provide a safe environment."