Judge dismisses charges against Occupy Chicago protesters


Daily file photo by Adam Sege

A protester holds a sign at an Occupy protest in 2011.

Manuel Rapada, Assistant City Editor

A Cook County judge dismissed charges against 92 Occupy Chicago protesters on Thursday who were arrested last year for violating curfew in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Thousands of protesters marched in Occupy Chicago rallies in October 2011, decrying income inequality and corporate excess. More than 300 people in total were arrested on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22, 2011 , according to the ruling issued by Circuit Court Associate Judge Thomas Donnelly.

During those two Saturdays in October, a Chicago police officer approached every person remaining in Grant Park after curfew, giving them the option to either leave the park or stay and be arrested, according to the ruling.

Only 92 of the arrestees were still fighting the charges months afterward.

On Thursday, Donnelly ruled the curfew unconstitutional, arguing that it violates the right of free assembly and the right to equal protection. For the latter claim, Donnelly cited President Barack Obama’s 2008 Grant Park rally on election night, when the city did not arrest anyone who stayed past the curfew.

“Grant Park’s history makes clear: it constitutes the quintessential public forum,” Donnelly wrote. “Because Grant Park, as we have seen, provides the only logical and realistic place for such assemblies, the curfew fails to allow ample alternative channels for such large late-night assemblies.”

In the ruling, Donnelly also found fault with a Chicago Park District official’s claim that the park needs to be closed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. “in order to keep the park safe, clean, attractive and in good condition.” The judge said that the city didn’t support its claim that closing the park for 49 hours each week was necessary.

In a press release issued Thursday, Occupy Chicago called the ruling “another victory” for the group against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his alleged attempts to curb first amendment rights.

The following day, however, the city of Chicago appealed the ruling.

Emanuel said the judge was “comparing apples and oranges” when he made the comparison between Occupy Chicago and then-President-elect Obama’s election night in 2008, according to the Chicago Tribune. Emanuel said that those organizing the Obama rally had a permit and were not planning on sleeping overnight, which he called “fundamental differences.”

Though charges have been dropped against Occupy protester Mark Banks, he said that the city’s effort to repress “the very essence of democracy” should be remembered, according to an Occupy Chicago news release.

“The charges against Occupy Chicago members have been dropped, but the legal and ethical travesty that they represent should never be forgotten,” he said.