Moral Low Ground


City of Chicago Offers $6.2 Million Settlement to Protesters Wrongfully Arrested at 2003 Anti-War Demonstration

Chicago city attorneys notified a federal judge that they have reached a $6.2 million settlement with more than 800 plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit resulting from the mass arrests at a 2003 anti-war demonstration.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the plaintiffs were protesting the Iraq War when hundreds of them got trapped by police at Chicago and Michigan avenues. Many protesters just wanted to leave and go home; instead they were arrested and jailed overnight. Every one of the arrest charges were subsequently dismissed in court.

Last year, federal appellate Judge Richard Posner ruled that the arrests were not justified because Chicago police had allowed the demonstration to occur without a permit, then decided to arrest participants without giving them clear orders to disperse.

Protesters who were arrested, charged and jailed would receive as much as $15,000 under the proposed settlement. Those arrested but not charged would get up to $8,750. Those who were detained at the scene of the demonstration but not arrested could receive up to $500, according to plaintiff’s attorney Joey Mogul.

The settlement amount does not include attorney’s fees, which could significantly increase the cost to the city.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall approved the proposed settlement, setting a date next month to discuss the issue of attorney’s fees.

“It is very costly, both politically and economically, to deny people their First Amendment rights,” Melinda Power, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, told the Tribune. “We didn’t want to have to bring this lawsuit, and we don’t want to have to bring other lawsuits.”

“And we’re sorry that the people of the city of Chicago will be having to pay a lot of money because the city of Chicago falsely arrested people and then refused for nine years to settle this case, causing people to spend millions of dollars,” she added.

The issue of protesters’ rights looms large as Chicago prepares to host both the G-8 and NATO summits in May, both of which will possibly draw thousands of protesters to the city. Occupy Chicago has announced that it has rented a warehouse within “sight and sound” of McCormick Place, the main venue for the G8 and NATO Summits.

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