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Chicago denies NATO protest permit

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The city of Chicago is denying a permit request for demonstrators to march against the NATO summit here this May, saying the necessary crowd control would be "a drain on existing police resources."

The denial came in a letter from the city last week to the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda, a group that had requested a permit for a May 20th march from Daley Plaza downtown, to McCormick Place, where the some 50 world leaders will be meeting.

The group had already been approved for an identical march route set for May 19, to coincide with the G-8 summit that was to be held in Chicago. But they decided to change the date when the White House abruptly announced that the G-8 meeting would be held in Camp David, instead.

In its March 15 denial letter, Chicago Department of Transportation Assistant Commissioner Mike Simon wrote that the parade would "substantially and unnecessarily interfere with traffic in the area" downtown, where motorcades for the high-level world leaders will cause "significant traffic impediments."

The Loop and the area around McCormick Place "will require heightened security, traffic re-routing, and security checkpoints and will demand large numbers of police and other city resources," Simon wrote. He added that the proposed protest would also put a "drain on existing police resources" on a day when Chicago cops not only have to provide security for the NATO summit, but also must continue to police the rest of the city.

"Thus, sufficient city resources are not available to mitigate the traffic disruption that would be caused by the proposed parade, or to police and protect parade participants and non-participants in light of these and other demands," the letter reads."

"If that's the way they wanna go, then they never should have asked for these damned summits in the first place," said Andy Thayer, the protest organizer whose permit was denied. "If they think these summits are more important than the First Amendment, they should never have burdened the city with them in the first place."

In its denial, the city proposed an alternate parade route. But Thayer dismissed the alternate as a "free speech dead zone," saying it would keep demonstrators too far away from the very world leaders they're trying to reach.

Thayer and his organization have until Thursday to appeal the city's denial.

Simon would only say that he's "in negotiations" with Thayer about the protest route, and referred all other questions to city press aides.

Chicago Law Department representative Roderick Drew said Monday the permit denial had more to do with the change of date than with a lack of city resources.

"We want [Thayer's] organization to express their 1st amendment rights but we also have an obligation to keep them safe as they do so, and to keep the city safe at the same time," Chicago Law Department Spokesman Roderick Drew wrote in an email. "The NATO Summit is significantly larger than the G8 Summit with over 50 heads of state and other high level dignitaries in attendance, therefore the traffic issues also grow in comparison to those of the G8 Summit attendees.  We are still negotiating with Mr. Thayer and are hopeful that we can reach a solution that is satisfactory to all parties."

Some downtown Chicago business owners and residents have been apprehensive about the potential for big protests and property damage during the NATO summit. But organizers, city officials and police have insisted that they have the resources necessary to pull off the summits while keeping the peace in the rest of the city.

While the U.S. Secret Service is in charge of security preparations for the NATO summit, Chicago police will play the lead role in dealing with protesters. The Chicago City Council recently passed an ordinance, pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, that allows the Chicago Police Deparment to deputize out-of-state law enforcement in order to beef up its ranks during the world meeting. The head of Chicago's police union has been urging the department to bring in outside help, saying the city doesn't have enough officers to keep protesters in check.

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