As members of Occupy Chicago gathered at City Hall to decry Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plans for the NATO and G8 summits -- which will take place in Chicago this May -- a source from the mayor's office told the Chicago Sun-Times that the administration is reversing plans to impose stiff fines on protesters.
Emanuel has been criticized by Occupy Chicago and other local and national protesters for plans to double fines for resisting arrest or obstructing a police officer. The plan would have forced protesters charged with those crimes to pay between $200 to $1,000, versus the $25 to $500 fines currently in place.
On Tuesday, however, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced the fine increase is not happening.
"We decided to pull that off the table," McCarthy said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
A city hall source, who asked to remain nameless, explained further to the Sun-Times:
“We met with aldermen last week and with groups interested in exercising their First Amendment rights, and they expressed concern that the fines were really high. It just made sense to keep the fines as is,” said a City Hall source, who spoke only on the condition of remaining anonymous.
The change of heart did not please protesters, who gathered at City Hall for a "Bill of Rights funeral" Tuesday morning.
"Bill of Rights was brutally beaten to death by a gang of thugs, eventually succumbing to wounds, massive hemorrhaging and blunt force trauma," Occupy Chicago said on their Facebook page. "Those claiming responsibility are National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Protect the IP Act (PIPA), and 'Mayor 1%' Emanuel for his permanent limitations of free speech and assembly beginning at the NATO/G8 summits on May 15-22."
The fine increase isn't the only part of Emanuel's proposed ordinance that ruffled some feathers. The ordinance also would give the Chicago police chief the power to deputize trained law enforcement officers from other states to help with security, close public parks two hours longer than usual each day, and speed up certain procurement requirements to deal with last-minute purchasing needs. It would also increase the number of surveillance cameras in an already camera-heavy city.
Before they dropped the fine increase for resisting arrest, the city also dropped plans to raise the maximum fine for a violation of the parade ordinance and eliminating a requirement for parade marshals for every 100 participants. They are leaving the time of a parade at two hours and 15 minutes, instead of cutting it to two hours.
Before McCarthy announced the change, Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) expressed some concerns. WBEZ reports:
"Obviously, our country was founded on protest, it was founded on freedom of speech," said Moreno, who has been arrested himself during protests against U.S. immigration policy. "And I just say, if you're gonna err on one side or the other, you have to err on the side of allowing people to express themselves."
Longtime activist and HuffPost blogger Andy Thayer, whose organization already received a protest permit from the city, issued an ultimatum surrounding the ordinance.
“If these ordinances pass, all bets are off,” Thayer told the Sun-Times. “If the federal government decides to nix the permit we’ve already received, all bets are off. Why should people respect the law if the law does not respect them?