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Chicago Prepares For Protester Influx

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Chicago Prepares For Protester Influx

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Chicago Prepares For Protester Influx

Chicago Prepares For Protester Influx

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This spring, Chicago will become the first U.S. city outside of Washington, D.C., to play host to meetings of both NATO and the G-8 — at the same time. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration is getting ready to lay out the red carpet for thousands of delegates from 80 countries. But the city is also bracing for the hordes of protesters who are expected to descend upon the summits. Tuesday, a Chicago city council committee is set to consider new measures aimed at reining in protesters — and that has set off a debate about the First Amendment in Chicago.


Chicago is getting ready for a close-up on the world stage. In May, it will host overlapping summits of both NATO and the G8, the first city to do so in more than three decades. The meetings are expected to draw thousands of delegates from 80 countries and hordes of protesters.

To prepare, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing ordinances that would give the city more power to deal with demonstrators. As Alex Keefe of WBEZ in Chicago reports, that has sparked a debate about security and free speech.

ALEX KEEFE, BYLINE: The first foreign dignitaries won't touch down in Chicago for more than four months, but activists have already been out in force to protest about, well, protesting.

EVELYN DE HAYES: To attack these freedoms is to attack the Constitution and the heart of our democracy.

KEEFE: Evelyn De Hayes(ph) is one of dozens of activists who showed up at City Hall to speak out against measures Mayor Rahm Emanuel says are necessary to preserve order at the world summits. Emanuel wants sweeping new powers, like the authority to spend money for the summits without City Council approval, the ability for Chicago police to deputize out-of-state law enforcement and some new restrictions on when and where people can protest.

Activists like De Hayes aren't having it.

HAYES: Mayor Rahm is using fear-mongering to pass this ordinance when it is the mayor himself who is bringing this undemocratic summit to the streets of Chicago.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: People have the right to express themselves and they will. I also have the responsibility to enforce the law, which we will.

KEEFE: Emanuel's law and order message didn't play out entirely as planned, especially in a city that still remembers the violent clashes between police and protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention. He had been pushing for dramatically higher fines for demonstrators who resist arrest, but he backed away from that after an outcry from some aldermen.

The mayor also faced a cycle of bad press after it was discovered that most of the changes he'd said would be temporary would actually be permanent. But, after a bit of lobbying, city council members at today's meeting seem like they're finally coming around to Emanuel's plans, though some, like Alderman Tom Tunney, still have lingering constitutional concerns.

TOM TUNNEY: The more we pressure the First Amendment rights, the more people are going to react in a negative way.

KEEFE: Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says the ordinances would help in a worst-case scenario.

GARRY MCCARTHY: In planning for these events, we need to be prudent and foresee as many scenarios as possible.

KEEFE: But foreseeing every constitutional contingency is probably impossible. David Franklin is a law professor at DePaul University in Chicago. He's thinking about how the city will handle unplanned actions, perhaps by anarchists who aren't inclined to fill out the proper paperwork.

DAVID FRANKLIN: What if something occurs and the protesters say, there's just no way we can ignore this. We're going to march tomorrow morning.

KEEFE: And that, Franklin says, could be the true test of whether the world will remember a historic meeting of world leaders in Chicago or the historic protests that disrupted them.

For NPR News, I'm Alex Keefe in Chicago.

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