On the evenings of October 15-16, 2011, and again the following weekend, October 22-23, approximately 300 activists with OCCUPY CHICAGO were arrested by Chicago police when they attempted to occupy a corner of Grant Park at Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway. The activists were cited for violating a Chicago Park District Ordinance which purports to bar use of the park after 11 p.m., and were promptly handcuffed, arrested and carted off to jail before they were eventually released on bond. These activists were then forced to go to court to answer the charges against them.
The Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild swung into action and organized a battalion of attorneys to attend the multiple court dates to represent the arrested activists. Many lawyers from the People’s Law Office were among these volunteers. Often cases involving minor infractions are dropped at the first court date. In this case, it was obvious that there were instructions from on high (i.e., Mayor Rahm Emanuel) that these cases were different, and that they would be prosecuted at all costs.
While some of the activists wanted to get the proceedings over with as quickly as possible and agreed to complete 10 hours of community service in exchange for the dismissal of the ordinance violations, others decided to fight the charges by pointing out that they were exercising their First Amendment right to speak out, assemble and protest. People’s Law Office lawyers then got to work and filed a Motion to Dismiss the charges, alleging that the arrests were unconstitutional and that OCCUPY CHICAGO must be allowed an adequate opportunity to set forth its message. You can find a copy of the motion here Motion to Dismiss.
Faced with this motion, City of Chicago lawyers attempted to avoid discussion of the real issues in the case by raising procedural technicalities in opposition to the motion. But the activists responded by pointing out that the real issue in the case is the seizure of wealth by the 1% and the seizure of the means to survive from the 99%, and that this concentration of wealth must be opposed, and that occupation of the park is a proper way to express this opposition. You can find this Occupy Chicago Reply.
When the motion was heard the courtroom was packed with almost 100 OCCUPY CHICAGO activists and scores of NLG attorneys and legal workers. Prior to the court hearing, OCCUPY CHICAGO staged a rally at Daley Center Plaza where they made it clear that they intended to continue to protest, and that they recognized that their arrests were just a warning shot about what they should expect at the upcoming G8/NATO summits in Chicago on May 19-21, 2012. The City lawyers again tried to argue that park district ordinances should prevail over the First Amendment, but the lawyers representing the activists strongly argued that the right to peacefully protest trumps a local law. You can see some of the footage of the media coverage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MALgM2ElME&feature=youtu.be;
The judge said he need more time to consider the motion, but meanwhile it is clear that OCCUPY CHICAGO remains alive, active, and well, and that lawyers from the People’s Law Office, and other lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild, will continue to defend OCCUPY CHICAGO and its right to protest.