92 Occupy protesters were arrested in Grant Park in Chicago last October. A Cook County judge has dismissed the charges against them.
Associate Judge Thomas M. Donnelly dismissed the charges, ruling that the city's overnight park curfew violated the protesters First Amendment rights and was being enforced selectively.
Donnelly noted that police had arrested hundreds in a crackdown on the Occupy protesters' encampment when the park closed at 11:00 pm. However, he stated that police had not moved against 500,000 people, who came to see Barack Obama after he won the presidency in 2008.
The judge wrote, "The city arrested no one at the Obama 2008 presidential election victory rally, even though the Obama rally was equally in violation of the curfew."
The judge further stated that this selective curfew enforcement, together with the Chicago Police Department's harassment of the protesters in the days prior to the arrests, supports “a finding that the city intended to discriminate against defendants based on their views.”
Citing the park's long history of political rallies, which date back to the days of Abraham Lincoln, the judge quoted early city leaders, who in 1835 resolved that the land that became Grant Park, "should be reserved for all time to come for a public square, accessible at all times to the people."
Judge Donnelly threw out the arrests, and slammed the city for denying the protesters their First Amendment rights.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel filed a notice that it would appeal the court ruling, overturning the arrest of the protesters and the curfew they were accused of violating.
“We’re not the only city. New York, L.A. - every major city has a curfew associated with parks,” Emanuel said. “I don’t think this is the last word. We’re gonna appeal the decision because we believe the ordinance is on firm ground as it relates to both public safety and First Amendment rights.”
The city plans to appeal the judge’s ruling. “There will be another judge who will also be given a chance to weigh in. It doesn’t mean it’s the final word," the Mayor added.
It is not clear whether this ruling would also affect the cases of the more than 200 arrested Occupy Chicago protesters who had earlier been placed under court-mandated supervision, in order to avoid having a conviction on their records.
Andy Thayer, an anti-war and gay rights activist who was among the arrested protesters, said, "It demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt just what a flagrant violation of people's rights these arrests were."
"The city was busy patting itself on the back about how they had handled the Occupy protests, and it puts the lie to their claims ... about respecting people's rights."
Sarah Gelsomino, a People's Law Office attorney representing the protesters, said the protesters were legally participating in free speech. "Hopefully this sends a clear message to the city that they must better respect the First Amendment rights of protesters no matter what their message might be," she said.