NATO Summit: First Amendment at Heart of Protestors' Conflict

Don Zoufal Story by Laura Funk

Security consultant Don Zoufal said the city needs to allow people who want
to demonstrate to do so in a safe environment. (Photo by Laura Funk)

NATO LogoBy Ryan Anderson and Laura Funk
The Red Line Project

Posted: Thursday, April. 26, 2012

Joe Iosbaker of the Coalition Against NATO constantly fights for his right to protest.

His latest opponents -- Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department -- are addressing the upcoming NATO summit protests by training some 13,000 police officers and federal agents to conduct mass arrests and bringing in the Illinois National Guard to provide support for dignitary motorcades.

“Instead of saying, ‘Of course we’ll respect your right to march,’ they’re announcing [that] they’re going to have snipers on the rooftops,” said Joe Iosbaker, an office support specialist for the University of Illinois at Chicago and one of the leaders in Chicago protest movements.

The battle between protecting free speech and protecting the general public will be a consistent concern during the NATO summit, scheduled for May 20-21 at McCormick Place, security experts say.

Anti-war coalition groups applied for permits to protest and plan a May 19 march and rally against NATO and G8, formally called ‘NATO G8 War and Poverty,’ Iosbaker said. The city denied a later request by protestors to move the march to May 20 when the G8 summit, scheduled for May 18-19, moved to Camp David.

But the city reversed its field on April 4, granting the protestors the right to march on May 20 and avoiding a potential legal battle.

“We first had to win the right to protest,” Iosbaker said.

The potential clash between protestors and the city’s security forces could come as early as May 1, when Occupy Chicago and other protest groups are expected to descend on Grant Park. Police arrested several protestors last fall when they tried to camp there overnight.

The possible showdown stirs memories of 44 years ago, when riots broke out in downtown Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.

Dr. Arthur Lurigio, a clinical psychologist and criminal justice expert with Loyola University, said the 1968 Democratic National Convention ruined the city’s reputation and made many conventions avoid Chicago.

“That debacle was so poorly handled that it will take many more decades for Chicago to live it down,” he said, “and it’s left an indelible blemish on the city.”

Lurigio said that changing the perception of Chicago is the city’s main goal in hosting the NATO summit. Because it’s an international event, the world will see — and form opinions based on — how Chicago reacts to protestors.

Lurigio said he believes both Mayor Emanuel and President Obama are hoping NATO can be a positive showcase for Chicago.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" -- The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Don Zoufal, security consultant and a legal authority on police powers and civil rights, said the city needs to be concerned with allowing people who want to demonstrate the ability to do that in a safe manner, while assuring that people in the vicinity can go about their business safely as well.

“Protestors want people to stop their routine activities and listen to their message,” he said. “And our First Amendment protects their ability to do that.”

However, violent groups associated with the G8 summit want people to do more than stop and listen, Zoufal said. They have an agenda that involves the destruction of property and violence.

Obama said he moved the G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David in order to create a more intimate setting.

However, Iosbaker said the G8 is moving “because of the protests” and it’s moving to a secluded, secure place that protestors cannot get near.

“Tens of thousands of people [will be] marching against G8, and it became clear to Obama it would be a clear embarrassment for them to meet in Chicago,” he said.

Regardless, the move of G8 won’t reduce the total number of protestors, Zoufal said. But it may result in some of the more violent and extremist groups deciding not to come to Chicago.

“At the end of the day all these things are a balancing act,” he said, “and I think the city’s done a pretty good job so far in terms of balancing concerns of the groups that want to protest to let them get their message out.”

Although he’s a free-speech absolutist (a member of the ACLU since the 1980s), Lurigio said, “Protesting doesn’t give people license to break the law, trespass, punch police, destroy property, etc.”

From a psychological standpoint, when protests devolve into violence, it actually undermines the message, he said.

“As a protestor, it’s really in your best interest to behave,” Lurigio said. “You’re less effective when you clash with authorities; the public just sees the violence, and they miss the content.”

However, Lurigio said the police and other law enforcement need to “behave according to their professional standards,” and “remember that they are the professionals—and act accordingly—in order to not exacerbate flammable situations.”

The expression of First Amendment rights has consistently been accommodated by the city, Zoufal said. However, deciding on what First Amendment activity can be accommodated is consistent with the need to protect the Obama and other heads of state who will attend the summit, he said.

Individuals coming to Chicago to propagate violence don’t need to be accommodated by city services, Zoufal said. Bringing together of all these world leaders from NATO into one place creates legitimate concerns about assassination attempts and terrorism.

It is the principle responsibility of the US Secret Service to address those concerns, and the city of Chicago needs to support their decisions in order to protect those individuals, he said. There are security issues large and small, and it’s pivotal that the city is a hospitable host to both the people who are going to protest and to the people coming here for legitimate governmental purpose, Zoufal said.

“This is an opportunity for the city to showcase itself to leaders of the world as a world class city,” he said. “[City service departments] are working hard to try and make sure that they can meet as many of the legitimate expectations of all these different groups as they possibly can.”

Lurigio, also holds a sanguine outlook regarding the NATO protests.

“I’m highly confident that this will be handled well,” Lurigio said.

He said he believes G8 moving away from Chicago will make the situation “much more controllable,” because the police won’t be worn down, fatigued and “stretched dangerously thin.”

“It’ll be uneventful, I believe,” Lurigio said.

However, Lurigio warns of possible conflict during the protests “because these situations are inherently volatile.”

The main issue is a mob mentality fever that can spread through the crowds, he said. People who’d never behave aberrantly when alone are substantially more likely to do so when in massive groups.

The “mob mentality” is always a concern during protests when tensions are already boiling, Lurigio said.

The image promulgated by the mayor and police of danger from protests is in fact missing the point, Iosbaker said.

“There’s no organization on earth more dangerous than NATO,” he said. “NATO is an organization of war makers.”

When people effectively come together in protest movements, it’s their governmental right to have those protests protected, he said. But instead, they restrict the individual’s right to protest.

“We’ve had a long struggle to get the right to protest,” Iosbaker said. “And we’re still not done.”

Chicago officials also have to be concerned about the entire city, not just the hot spots for protests. While special resources are being allocated in the areas where First Amendment rights are going to be exercised, the city needs to make sure that they have the ability to perform all the public safety and security functions that they execute on a day to day basis, Zoufal said.

“The city needs to respect the right of the First Amendment protestors to exercise their rights,” he said. “On the other side of the coin, the protestors need to understand that other people in the city have rights.

“[Each person’s] rights need to be protected and respected,” he said.

The police need to be mindful of people who are hurt and need ambulance, fire or police services, Zoufal said. The congestion of streets still needs to allow those emergency vehicles to get through from point A to point B.

“There needs to be an understanding by protestors that there are limits to what the city can allow and accommodate in the expression of their rights,” he said.

Ultimately there will be some inconvenience for members of the public, but people should be able to carry out their normal routines, Zoufal said. It just may take 10 or 15 minutes longer.

“Regular traffic service is going to be interrupted,” he said. “That’s simply going to happen.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, city officials said the decision to move the protest march from the Daley Plaza to outside the Loop was because the crowded downtown streets would pose a public safety risk.

Iosbaker and his protest group felt that the Daley Plaza was a better venue for the march, but they had to make a decision whether to fight the decision in court or to compromise, he said.

“We decided to compromise because they are respecting our right to march,” Iosbaker said.  “The city has granted us that.”

Iosbaker predicted there will be no arrests and no confrontations during their NATO protest. He said he can’t speak for other protests, but he ensures that there’s not going to be any problems during their protest.

“We’re going to have a family-friendly protest,” Iosbaker said. “I’m confident.”

Related: David Franklin Q&A

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