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Protestors Cry Foul over Proposed G8, NATO Restrictions

Michell Eloy

Pittsburgh police in riot gear redeploy after confrontations with protestors near the Strip District in Pittsburgh, Thursday Sept. 24, 2009. Hundreds of demonstrators marched in protest of the G20, which is expected to begin in Pittsburgh on Thursday. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

Protesters are criticizing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to raise fines and tighten security measures during the upcoming G8 and NATO summits.

The mayor introduced an ordinance during Wednesday's City Council meeting that, if passed, would temporarily raise fines for resisting police or aiding someone escaping arrest. During the summits, which could draw thousands of protesters, Emanuel wants to increase the minimum fine from $25 to $200 and double the maximum fine to $1,000. His proposed ordinance would also close parks, playgrounds and beaches overnight for longer periods of time.

"People are outraged," said Mary Zerkel, who's with the Quaker group American Friends Services Committee. "It's, again, the tightening of free speech."

Zerkel said the proposed restrictions could deter peaceful protesters.

"People are going to think twice about that kind of money to engage in non-violent civil disobedience," said Zerkel.

Emanuel has defended the ordinance as necessary to ensure the two international summits run without a problem.

"We're just doing what's appropriate to make sure we can hold the conference. People can express their views. The leaders can have their meetings, and we can do it in a safe and responsible way," said Emanuel.

Similar ordinances have been passed in other U.S. cities that have hosted international events. Pittsburgh, which hosted the G20 summit in 2009, passed ordinances that banned obstructive objects and masks used for the purpose of breaking the law. An ordinance was also passed that allowed the Pittsburgh Police Department to coordinate strategies with other law enforcement agencies and hire more officers, something Emanuel has also included in his ordinance for the upcoming summits.

"Without those ordinances, we wouldn't have been as safe," said Joanna Doven, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

University of Chicago Assistant Law Professor Aziz Huq said courts often grant cities more leeway in setting time, place and manor restrictions on protesters, so long as the restrictions are "content neutral."

"On the other hand, if there's reason to believe that what's going on here is the suppression of a particular view point, then I think that's a very different case," said Huq.

But David Franklin, vice dean at the DePaul College of Law, said the ordinance does seems within legal bounds.

"[Courts] taking up First Amendment cases look with a lot of suspicion on statutes that are vague, laws that have a lot of ambiguity in them, because the concern is the government will be able to use that vagueness as a way of exercising discretion," said Franklin. "[This ordinance] does seem to be content neutral and not especially vague."

The NATO and G8 summits are scheduled to be held a McCormick Place in mid May.

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