Trouble Brewing in Chicago for the Democratic National Convention Protests

Chicago police, the Secret Service, and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies sound confident that they’re able to handle any protests that occur at the Democratic National Convention in August.

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“With two months left until the convention, we’re finalizing plans and making sure all of our operations are safe,” CPD Superintendent Larry Snelling told reporters at a press conference on Thursday. “Make no mistake, we are ready. The partnership, collaboration, and open communication between everyone involved is why we are ready.”

“We’ve got a tremendous working relationship with Chicago police, as well as a multitude of other agencies, both local and federal, that will be contributing to this whole-of-government approach that we’re taking” with the DNC, Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle said Tuesday.

Police Superintendent Larry Snelling laid down the law at a press conference on Tuesday.

“First Amendment protection is only there if you’re not committing a crime, and you can be acting out peacefully but still breaking the law,” Snelling said, discussing safety measures for the convention.

The superintendent went on to say that it’s illegal to block a roadway or trespass on private property. There’s trouble brewing, and it’s not clear that law enforcement understands the nature of the threat. The Palestinian protesters have an expansive and unrealistic view of what the First Amendment allows and what it doesn’t. Snelling was telling the protesters that the law must be obeyed. The protesters believe their right to freedom of speech is nearly absolute.

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Hatem Abudayyeh, U.S. Palestinian Community Network National chair called Snelling’s comments “very serious and disconcerting.”

“The only responsibility that the Chicago police has and all law enforcement has is to not infringe on our First Amendment rights. For him to say what he’s saying … and he’s announcing it publicly … it should worry everyone,” Abudayyeh said.

So blocking traffic, trespassing on private property, or protesting without a permit is “infringing” on First Amendment rights? This is going to be a very interesting convention.

Block Club of Chicago:

Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at ACLU of Illinois, said he’s concerned Snelling’s comments create the perception that “protests are something to be feared.”

There’s also concern that even if a protest follows the law, a minor slip could trigger the mass arrest policy. For example, if people choose to protest at Daley Plaza and the group spills into the street because of its size, those people could be arrested, Yohnka said.

The ACLU of Illinois and the March on the DNC Coalition are suing the city in federal court for the right to protest near the DNC after having their initial protest permits denied. Representatives from the coalitions have stated they will march peacefully with or without permission from the city.

“We want people to express their rights safely and responsibly and we will protect them, but we are not going to tolerate crime, violence, and vandalism,” Snelling said. “We will always protect our city we are ready and we will continue to be ready as we head into August.”

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Meanwhile, the Chicago Inspector General’s Office is dubious about the Chicago PD’s training methods in getting ready to confront protesters at the Convention.

Inspector General Deborah Witzburg issued a 52-page report about changes made in mass arrest policies and found them lacking in realism.

“Although the proposed policy changes are promising, there has not been time for meaningful Department training or inclusion of public input prior to their implementation ahead of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in August 2024,” the report said.

Witzburg wasn’t too thrilled about the CPD’s training methods in crowd control.

Additionally, the report found Chicago police’s training on “crowd management tactics,” including the use of pepper spray and the “encirclement” of demonstrators, was “insufficient,” highlighting concerns over possible infringement of protestors’ constitutional rights.

“CPD tactical trainings state that [pepper] spray can be used against passive resisters and do not discuss circumstances in which its use may infringe constitutional rights,” the report states. “CPD’s failure to appropriately educate members on demonstrators’ rights may leave members ill-equipped to distinguish between lawful and unlawful demonstrators, potentially subjecting lawful demonstrators to unconstitutional policing tactics.”

For his part, Snelling had no answer to the charges. He only urged the IG office to “undertake a more fulsome review of the Department’s efforts, including training observation and interviews with Department personnel who have subject matter expertise.” 

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In other words, look harder and you’ll see what a swell job we’ve done. The CPD has been putting thousands of officers through “three, eight-hour training sessions related to de-escalation, law enforcement medical training, and how to use a new taser.”

Will they remember any of it in the heat of battle, with protesters throwing things at them, spitting at them, and screaming in their faces? The protesters are trying to elicit a violent response from the police. It will be very hard to maintain their composure.

I’m sure they’ll have plenty of opportunity to put that training to good use in August.

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