Snelling to DNC protesters: First Amendment doesn’t protect lawlessness

Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling had a direct message to those who plan to protest outside the Democratic National Convention in August: the first amendment only protects you if you don’t break the law.

"Peaceful protest does not necessarily mean that someone is exercising their First Amendment rights," Snelling said at a joint Press Conference with US Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle. "First Amendment protection is only there if you’re not committing a crime. You can be acting out peacefully and still breaking the law. If you sit in a roadway, or you’re blocking a venue, or private property and you refuse to leave, those are crimes."

Snelling said the department is formulating a mass arrest policy should protests turn into mass lawlessness. He said officers have also undergone extensive de-escalation training to prevent protests from turning into chaos. The department will be augmented by 400 special security personnel from other departments, Snelling said.

Snelling and Cheatle delivered the remarks as Cheatle was in town for strategy meetings and a walk-through of the United Center and McCormick Place. 

Secret Service officials said there will be portable surveillance equipment around the United Center in areas where there are no Shotspotter cameras. A formal plan for a security perimeter around the arena won’t be announced until the week of July 25, as city and federal officials hammer out details on street and Eisenhower ramp closures.  

Another consideration will be roving closures on the Kennedy Expressway for President Biden and other top cabinet officials to shuttle between O’Hare Airport and downtown. Still, Cheatle says the goal is to provide a safe event without disrupting daily life for Chicagoans.

"We’ve done an extraordinary amount of outreach with the local community," Cheatle, a Chicago native, said. "And we’ve made sure the footprint we have for security is as minimal impact to neighborhoods, residents and businesses as possible."