How Late Is It?

On September 28th, 2012 Cook County Associate Judge Thomas Donnelly threw out the arrests of Occupy Chicago demonstrators who had been charged with violation of the City of Chicago’s overnight park curfew. He went on to declare that the curfew violates the First Amendment. He reasoned that the selective enforcement of the curfew, as well as police harassment in the days preceding the arrests, supported the concept that the City had discriminated against the defendants based upon political views.

But Judge Donnelly went on to write that curfew itself violated the Illinois and U.S. constitutions right to free speech and assembly. Mixing historical references to political rallies from the time of Abraham Lincoln with present day examples of President Obama’s election night rally, Donnelly quoted city leaders who, in 1835, declared that Grant Park should be “reserved for all time to come for a public square, accessible at all times to the people.” He continued with the concept of parks providing a forum for free speech and that restricting access must be narrowed to a specific government issue such as park maintenance.

According to a Chicago law Department spokesperson, the City will appeal as the 11 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew in Grant Park are an integral of the Chicago’s efforts to protect public health and safety. Other legal scholars have suggested that, while the curfew may prove to be legal, the uneven enforcement is a clear case of discrimination against certain groups, as other groups have been allowed to stay beyond the curfew times.

One curfew that has not been challenged is the new citywide curfew for children that went into effect September of 2011. In response to police statistics that showed that homicide rates spike between the hours of 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., the Chicago City Council ruled that unsupervised minors 12 or younger will need to be in their homes by 8:30 p.m. on weekdays and by 9 p.m. on the weekends. Those caught will be subject to a fine of up to $500 or community service. There was no change to the ordinance for minors between the ages of 13 to 16 whose existing curfew is to be indoors by 10 p.m. on weekdays and by 11 p.m. on weekends.

While some police and politicians have suggested that manpower needs to be focused on street violence, others hope that this ordinance will be one more tool to reduce youth violence and arrests as the monetary fines will help parents understand their role in keeping their children safe at home.