Judge Upholds Free Speech, Frees Occupiers!

It’s all a day’s work, right? In one fell swoop, Cook County Associate Judge Thomas More Donnelly managed to benchslap the Chicago Police Department for their hypocrisy, uphold the free speech rights of the Occupy Movement and dismiss charges against 92 protestors who violated the city’s 11 p.m. curfew for Grant Park, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. It remains to be seen what will happen to the other 211 protestors that accepted plea deals prior to yesterday’s decision.

Last October, the Chicago Police asked the occupiers to leave the Federal Reserve bank. They moved to the Bank of America building. They were then asked to move again. They went to Millennium Park. They were asked to move again. They then settled into Grant Park.

Unfortunately, city parks have an 11 p.m. curfew. As the hour approached, the police warned those “occupying” the park that they would have to leave or face arrest. In total, 303 arrests were made over two separate incidents.

People staying in a park past curfew are arrested for violating curfew. That sounds reasonable, right? Even though those people were protestors exercising their rights of assembly and free speech, the city is allowed to make reasonable restrictions on the time and manner of their speech if there is a compelling interest, such as safety issues with crowded parks in the middle of the night.

That’s all fair, and probably would have sufficed, if the Chicago P.D. had enforced the rule against everyone. Judge Donnelly focused on one event in particular, a Barack Obama rally in 2008, where the then-candidate spoke to the crowd until 11:20 p.m. and the crowd lingered for a while afterwards. No arrests were made.

Reasonable restrictions are allowed on free speech and assemblies. However, by selectively enforcing the rules against certain groups, while letting others skirt the laws, the rule becomes arbitrary, capricious, and no longer narrowly tailored. A city cannot selectively enforce a curfew provision to silence some voices while allowing others.

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Judge Upholds Free Speech, Frees Occupiers!