Rahm Emanuel Vs. The First Amendment

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a little man who wants to wear a military uniform and a big hat with a giant eagle on the front.

Emanuel’s request for expanded mayoral powers during next May’s G-8 and NATO summits is the reminiscent of an Arab president-for-life declaring a state of emergency and suspending the Constitution to deal with the threat of communism.

Basically, Mayor 1% wants to cancel -- for one week only! -- laws providing for collective bargaining, free speech and public assembly. He believes this is necessary to prevent demonstrators from embarrassing him in front of his guests, his fellow 1%-ers from around the world. The mayor must have picked up the latest issue of Time magazine, the one declaring The Protestor “Person of the Year.” Emanuel landed the G-8 and NATO summits before the Arab spring protests and the Occupy Wall Street movement broke out, and now he’s terrified of becoming the next target.

Emanuel’s requests -- which include restricting access to parks and beaches, raising fines for resisting a police officer to $2,000, and allowing him to sign security contracts without City Council approval -- have nothing to do with ensuring public safety during demonstrations against the G-8. They are intended to quash those demonstrations before they even begin, by intimidating protestors who can’t afford a $2,000 fine. We already have laws to preserve order during public protests, and those laws work. None of the Occupy protests in Chicago have become violent.  

In trying to become the hard hand against political and economic dissent, Emanuel is making the same mistake Richard J. Daley made in 1968: he’s taking the protests personally. The Democratic National Convention was supposed to be Mayor Daley’s Showcase, in Mayor Daley’s Chicago. Daley didn’t need the City Council to change the laws for him, because he already was the law. He ordered his parks commissioner to refuse the demonstrators a permit. When they showed up anyway, he ordered his cops to beat the crap out of them, thus bringing about the violence he claimed he’d been trying to prevent. Emanuel is setting up a similar showdown between himself and G-8 protestors.

Once a legislative branch surrenders power to an executive, it seldom gets that power back. Mayor Emanuel’s attempt to make himself The Law In This Town grab sets a terrible precedent. If we allow the mayor to suspend our First Amendment rights for the week we believe the exercise of those rights is most necessary, what’s the point of having a First Amendment at all?

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