Feb 12, 2024 - Politics

Chicago to lay out where protests will be allowed during DNC

The open gates to a playground with a green sign that reads Park No. 578

Park No. 578 at Wolcott and Maypole, where the Coalition to March on the DNC wanted to end their march. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Chicago officials, organizers and the U.S. Secret Service are working to designate where demonstrators can and can't protest during the Democratic National Convention this August.

Why it matters: The city needs to protect the safety of attendees while also respecting protesters' right to march, but some activists already feel their message is being stifled.

Catch up fast: The city has a long and at times dark history with unrest at conventions. During the infamous 1968 DNC, clashes between police and protesters turned violent — leaving a "black eye" on the city.

  • More recently, police arrested dozens during the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, and three men faced terrorism-related charges. A jury later acquitted them on those charges but found them guilty of mob action, Reuters reported.

What they're saying: "When we found out that we were getting the convention, we started training right away," CPD Superintendent Larry Snelling said during a recent speech. "We got about a year to prepare. My experience with the NATO event in 2012 … we look at where other cities went wrong. We look at where we went wrong."

The big picture: Under the federal National Special Security Events designation, the Secret Service works with local law enforcement and organizers to coordinate conventions and ensure safety and security for attendees, residents and visitors.

  • "While the convention is planned for next summer, teams have been on the ground in Chicago for months preparing an intricate security plan with the full weight of the federal, state, and city government," according to a USSS statement.
  • That includes identifying boundaries of the security perimeter around the United Center, where protesters will not be allowed to enter.

How it works: The city requires groups to apply for "parade" permits, "which encompass any march, procession or similar activity taking place on the public way that would require a street closure or traffic reroute," a city spokesperson tells Axios.

  • "The permit applications are reviewed by multiple city departments to identify any potential conflicts, safety issues, and to assess the availability of resources necessary to support the gathering."
  • The First Amendment allows protesters to be within "sight and sound" of the action they're protesting against.

By the numbers: At least three permit applications for DNC marches have been denied, including a coalition's permit to march from Union Park to near the United Center. The city cited traffic obstruction and limited police staffing as reasons for the denial, according to the document viewed by Axios.

  • According to city law, officials must suggest an alternate route when a permit is denied, and in this case they offered a march from Roosevelt to Jackson, more than 3 miles from the stadium.
  • The coalition, whose primary objective is calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, is appealing that decision in front of an administrative judge Wednesday.
  • But member Joe Iosbaker tells Axios the group is confident they'll win the right to have a peaceful march near the United Center, and "will march with or without a permit."

A DNC spokesperson tells Axios: "Peaceful protests are an important part of American democracy and we respect the First Amendment rights that provide a fundamental freedom to assemble. The safety and security of convention delegates and guests is our top priority."

What's ahead: Any groups planning to march or protest the DNC have to submit an application at least five business days in advance, according to city ordinance.

  • USSS spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi tells Axios there will be real-time public safety and logistical information via a dedicated website and mobile app during the convention.
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