Chicago police ban protests near Mayor Lightfoot’s home, sparking First Amendment debate

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Should Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s block be off-limits to protesters?  

The debate about a public official’s safety versus the public’s civil liberties is raging in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. 

A stretch of Wrightwood Avenue between Kimball Avenue and St. Louis Avenue has been barricaded and blocked by police to keep out protesters after multiple demonstrations directed at the mayor took place near her home in recent weeks. Officers are reportedly under orders to arrest anyone attempting to protest there.

As mayor, Lightfoot receives police protection around-the-clock and there are at least two police vehicles stationed on the block at all times.  

But neighbors say streets are sometimes blocked even when there are no protests, and barricades are ready to go at a moment’s notice. They’ve come up with some tongue-in-cheek nicknames for the block, calling it a gated community or “Fort Lori.”    

“She blocks us off so she can feel safe, even though it’s hurting all of her neighbors,” neighbor Emma Frost said.

On Thursday, Lightfoot said the street is only closed off when protesters could cause problems, and not 24/7.

“I make no apologies whatsoever for that. We are living in a very different time. I  have seen the threats that have come in. I have an obligation to keep my home, my wife, my 12-year-old, and my neighbors safe,” Lightfoot said.

Rachel Vogrich lives a few doors down from Lightfoot, and said she has returned from recent protests elsewhere in the city to her street also blocked off by officers.

“We have also been protesting so it’s kind of awkward, being in the protests, going out like trying to support everyone then coming back in here,” Vogrich  said.

Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown said “residential” demonstrations like those outside the mayor’s home are actually illegal in Chicago and in Illinois. 

“Protesting in neighborhoods is not legal. What we try to do is err on the side of First Amendment rights, so we give a little bit of wiggle room, we compromise – except for the embedded violence we’ve seen,” Brown said.

Ed Yohnka of the ACLU of Illinois said the tactic is “concerning” and appears to violate the First Amendment.  

“Neither state nor local government can write a law which violates the Constitution of the United States. As it’s been interpreted by the Supreme Court as of now, the limitation is on protests at a particular home, not a particular block,” Yohnka said.

The mayor says she has received threats on a daily basis, and said the situation can’t be compared to protests at former mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home given the pandemic, which has caused the mayor to make polarizing decisions regarding closures, and the civil unrest which has turned violent several times in recent months.   

“This is a different time – like no other. And, I’m not going to make any excuses, given the threats I personally receive, given the threats to my home and my family, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure they are protected,” Lightfoot said.

Some neighbors do support restricting access to the block in order to protect the mayor.  

“I just feel like it should be blocked off because of the mayor,” said Ray Michalski, who lives down the street.  “The protesters are always here trying to do some stupid stuff.”

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