Chicago has money for security, but not for libraries

Chicago will be the site of both the G8 and NATO summits from May 19-21, 2012.  President Obama will act as host, and leaders from around the world will be in attendance. Protesters from around the world are also expected to attend in huge numbers, with the police already promising mass arrests. The buildup to the event is being led by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, with pushes for more security funding and bigger fines for protesters, while at the same time cutting the city’s libraries.

The Mayor is pushing to raise the fine for “resisting arrest” to $1,000 (about double the previous level) in anticipation of the conference. A Chicago Business editorial speculates that there is concern about a replay of the 1968 Democratic Convention, which is still seen as a black eye for the city. Beefing up the ability of the police force to inflict pain on protesters financially may not be the best way to go about this. “Occupy Wall Street” protests that have been forcefully broken up by police are already resulting in lawsuits, with many more still to be filed and years of court battles in the future.

Comparisons to 1968 are particularly apt, given the early stage planning already being made by OWS and other protester groups. Coordination appears to be progressing rapidly with cooperation from a number of groups already established. Potential protesters are already speculated to be in the tens of thousands. Chicago OWS is attempting to obtain the appropriate permits and lay other groundwork to facilitate the expected influx of protesters.

The last time Chicago faced protests on this scale, the city gained a reputation of having an abusive police force and an out of touch Mayor (the first Daley) who had no respect for the rule of law. Emmanuel may be moving in the wrong direction through massive purchases of security equipment and toughening the fines for “resisting arrest,”a charge frequently abused by police.

Emanuel has requested that local businesses cover the cost of security.The mayor has asked for $60 million in emergency funds to cover the cost of security items –meaning that many of the purchases will be on a no-bid basis. The mayor justifies the “emergency” expenditures as the only method of meeting the city’s requirements. “Only Motorola radios can interface with the city’s infrastructure” for instance.

Henry Bayer of AFSCME Council 31 has responded, “If those people can afford to put up $45 million or $60 million, which is the city’s estimate, why isn’t he out there asking them, `Wouldn’t you be willing to pay a little bit more — just a fraction of that $60 million — which could be used to keep the libraries open’ ” six days-a-week?” The mayor has recently pushed through a measure closing the city’s libraries one day a week to help resolve financial shortfalls. The mayor had originally pushed for even more stringent actions until pushback from city council members caused him to ease off to the current one day a week closure. The mayor’s office claims he is committed to libraries, but, in fact, when funding was needed, security concerns caused him to look for new sources, while libraries got budget cuts.

Crain’s “Chicago Business” has published an editorial criticizing the mayor for the no-bid contracts. The paper notes that Chicago was selected as the site of the conferences back in June, but it is now necessary to purchase items on an “emergency” basis. The editorial goes further and states that the move illustrates either very poor planning on the part of the city, or is a move to throw business at “insider cronies.”

As the story unfolds, reminders of 1968 abound. A Democratic mayor who helped to elect a President and is rewarded with a convention. The mayor believes that dissent can be easily squashed through police action, and no one will care. Protesters who are resolved to face whatever resistance they must.

The eyes of the world are turning towards Chicago as the OWS movement prepares for the first big battle of a new year after a long Valley Forge winter, which has challenged their ability to persevere.  May looks to be an interesting month this year.