The Chicago Police Department has effectively banned protesters from demonstrating on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s block in the Logan Square neighborhood, ordering officers to arrest anyone who refuses to leave, the Tribune has learned.
The directive surfaced in a July email from then-Shakespeare District Commander Melvin Roman to officers under his command. It did not distinguish between the peaceful protesters Lightfoot regularly says she supports and those who might intend to be destructive, but ordered that after a warning is given to demonstrators, “It should be locked down.”
Since the order, and even for a time just prior to its writing, Chicago cops have repeatedly blocked protesters’ access to the block with groups of officers and barricades. Police have often kept protesters contained at the nearby corner of Kimball and Wrightwood avenues, though one standoff between activists and officers last month saw police go as far as bringing in an armored vehicle in case things got out of hand.
Some neighbors in the Logan Square area have complained about the city’s approach to protests around Lightfoot’s house, which at times has included checking residents’ IDs before letting them close. Ron Kaminecki, a 69-year old patent attorney and bike shop owner who lives on Bernard Street a few houses from Lightfoot, said some neighbors have been frustrated by the police presence and barricades.
“I came up with the name ‘Fort Lori’ because it’s so hard to get in and out,” Kaminecki said.
As recently as Friday, dozens of protesters were turned away from the block after trying to march to the mayor’s house in support of local school councils voting Chicago police off their campuses. Barricades can be seen set aside for quick deployment even on days without demonstrations.
In response to questions from the Tribune, police said state law and Chicago’s municipal code prohibit protests in residential areas.
“CPD remains committed to facilitating First Amendment rights, while also protecting public safety. CPD continues to enforce state law and the City’s municipal code regarding public assembly,” police spokeswoman Margaret Huynh said in a statement. “The block is open at this time.”
Asked to list specific instances where the city enforced the residential protest ban aside from demonstrations near Lightfoot’s house, Huynh said, “every situation is evaluated by the size of the protests and the available space” but did not provide any examples.
Lightfoot’s office said the city supports residents’ First Amendment right to peacefully protest but did not specifically address whether activists should be allowed to assemble outside her home.
“As with every planned protest in the city, (CPD) implements safety measures and precautions to not only ensure protestors are abiding by the law but also to ensure both protestors and residents are protected and safe,” a spokesman said in a written statement.
The ACLU of Illinois said the position that one residence can be protected is accurate, but the law is less clear when more geography is covered.
“The Supreme Court has found that the government can prohibit protests at a single home in a residential area, but that does not necessarily extend to the entire block,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said in a statement. “The right to free speech and peaceable assembly includes the right to choose one’s audience, and government actions that limit that right for the sake of residential privacy must be narrowly tailored to protect that interest.”
First Amendment attorney Matt Topic, who frequently represents clients who sue the city for violating public records law, questioned the city’s position.
“The city interpretation of the statute is on questionable constitutional grounds, and an administration that believes in accountability to the people wouldn’t try to ban picketing near the home of the mayor even if an argument could be made for its constitutionality,” Topic said.
Some Logan Square residents agreed, criticizing the city’s approach to the protests. Lauren Dean, who lives nearby and emailed the Tribune after an inquiry from the newspaper to residents opposing the handling of demonstrations, said the mayor is trying to avoid hearing public criticism.
“While Lori is on national stages talking about how we need to reform police by creating fewer day-to-day interactions between police and citizens, her own city is not allowed to move through the neighborhood or feel the same kind of safety she is claiming to advocate for nationally,” Dean wrote. “As a neighbor, I find protests and actions near her home significantly less disruptive than her response to the protestors, which only aim to keep her from having to listen to the voices of her constituents.”
It was unclear whether some neighbors might be in favor of a police presence keeping protesters at bay. On the block this week, barricades with the look of French railings sat to the side off Wrightwood Avenue near the house, as one passerby pushed a stroller down Lightfoot’s block and another walked a dog.
Two Chicago police vehicles were parked outside the mayor’s home, across the street from each other.
One of Lightfoot’s neighbors, who said he’s lived on Wrightwood for three years, said he sees no problem with protesters assembling on the block, and doesn’t think the city’s response includes listening to them. At times this summer there have been as many as 50 police officers within two blocks of the mayor’s house, he said.
“The visual of that, I think, could strike a person as kind of chilling,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons. “Seeing such a strong police presence, I would say it can feel intimidating, whether or not it’s intended that way.”
Aside from the expanded police presence to block protesters from reaching her home, Lightfoot already receives 24/7 protection from cops including officers stationed at the residence. The aggressive policing has sometimes siphoned away resources from the area’s police district, some sources with knowledge of the situation said, leading to quiet grumbling.
Roman, the police commander who detailed the Police Department’s approach in an email, left that post last month and is assigned to the Crime Prevention and Information Center, a unit that organizes and shares intelligence throughout the department. He did not return repeated messages seeking comment on his email.
In that email to subordinates, he made clear all protests are prohibited near Lightfoot’s home.
“Please be advised that we are no longer allowing (any) protesters across the street from mayors (sic) residence … please make sure every officer in the house knows that if anyone shows up to protest (they) are to be immediately told that it is against the city code and state law to protest on a residential neighborhood,” Roman wrote. “They need to be told to leave immediately.”
After the first warning, Roman said, police should immediately secure the block as well as nearby St. Louis Avenue and Kimball “so that no other protesters come and join.” Protesters could stay by the church nearby, Roman said.
“Once locked down and more cars on scene the second … order should be given,” Roman wrote. “The idea is to make sure the footprint is closed so we don’t have larger numbers to deal with. (Tactical teams) will then come … help with any arrests that need to be done once third and final warning is given.”
Roman’s directive also requires lieutenants to tell officers on their watch “they should immediately call for cars and a supervisor while (giving) the protesters the first warning.”
Readily available city statistics list no arrests on Lightfoot’s block in the wake of the instructions being issued. Two crimes were reported, according to the online data, on July 21 and 23 respectively, for “public peace” violations related to demonstrations.
The Lightfoot administration’s handling of protests near her home differs with how the city generally responded to demonstrations against Mayor Rahm Emanuel at his Ravenswood house.
Activists and police sources could not cite instances when the city repeatedly locked Emanuel’s block down against protesters. The Kenwood block where former President Barack Obama lived with his family when his primary residence was in Chicago was shut down for access only by residents after his election.
To be sure, Emanuel and the city did not see the level of civil unrest Chicago has experienced since the killing of George Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police, but he also presided over a tumultuous time, especially after the court-ordered release of a video showing a white Chicago police officer shooting Black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.
Aaron Sofian, who has lived in Ravenswood near Emanuel’s home for about a decade, said he did not recall the former mayor’s block ever being shut down due to protests.
“I do remember (police) pushing people off the block,” Sofian said, “But no, I don’t ever remember having blocks blocked off so I couldn’t get to his house … I could have walked through the protests.”
As mayor, Lightfoot has been especially security conscious. She broke with tradition by hiring former Deputy U.S. Marshal Jim Smith to lead her detail instead of using someone from the Police Department.
Then, earlier this summer, Lightfoot gave him leadership control over the Chicago police officers assigned to guard City Hall and her home.
In February, the Lightfoot administration reassigned the long-serving head of the Chicago Police Department’s City Hall detail hours after a group of activists made its way up to the lobby outside her fifth-floor office and staged a sit-in.
The city’s recent approach to protests outside Lightfoot’s home also differs with how the administration handled such demonstrations earlier in her term. As recently as May, police allowed activists who were protesting over the botched Hilco demolition in the Little Village neighborhood to gather outside her house.
In that instance, Lightfoot took umbrage with Pilsen Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, a first-term democratic socialist who joined the activists. Sigcho-Lopez’s decision to join the protesters outside her home drew criticism from some politicians who believe it’s a breach of decorum for one elected official to demonstrate at another’s home.
“I think there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed,” Lightfoot said then. “That’ll be for him to have to deal with. He’s chosen to exercise himself in ways that I don’t understand, but that’s why we have elections.”
Tribune reporter David Heinzmann contributed to this report
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