This week police arrested about two dozen protesters who were inside Chicago’s City Hall at the end of a three-day demonstration against proposed school closings. Community activists, teachers, and concerned parents have conducted marches and staged protests to express their dissaproval of a plan to close 54 Chicago area schools.
The individuals who were arrested were inside City Hall and had blocked the elevators on the first floor. It is not yet known whether or not they will be subject to criminal charges as a result of the protests and the arrests.
Protests by their nature are supposed to be a disruptive act that normal citizens can use to catch the attention of the public and lawmakers to urge change. Protesting is an important part of our right to free speech under the First Amendment, but many Chicago residents do not realize the boundaries of the restrictions on the right to free speech and assembly.
For example, it is permissible to be in a public place like on a sidewalk or in a park and to hold a peacefull protest about an issue of public concern. However, it is generally not acceptable to engage in conduct that could cause a danger to public safety or that extends beyond the bounds of time, place, and manner restrictions reasonably put in place by the government.
In this situation, protestors outside the building and indoors who were not blocking the elevators were apparently in compliance with those restrictions and were expressing their views without risk of criminal liability. On the other hand, the protestors who chose to block the elevators may not have been aware that their right to free speech does not protect that conduct and that they would be subject to arrest or other police intervention as a result.
Source: NBC Chicago, “School Closure Opponents Arrested at City Hall Demonstration,” Mary Ann Ahern and BJ Lutz, May 20, 2013.