Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson confident DNC will go smoothly despite recent demonstrations: ‘We are prepared’

CHICAGO — Mayor Brandon Johnson on Friday disputed the notion his administration is unprepared for the Democratic National Convention and is suppressing protests, amid a nationwide spotlight on Pro-Palestinian university demonstrations that some fear are an indication of chaos to come for Chicago this summer.

Speaking at an unrelated news conference with Chicago police Supt. Larry Snelling, the mayor promised the blockbuster made-for-TV event will be “safe, energetic, vibrant” and dismissed assertions from dissident groups as well as the ACLU of Illinois that the rejection of protest permits violates the First Amendment.

“We are prepared for the DNC,” Johnson said. “If there is a mayor that understands the value of protests, it’s me. I’ve led many demonstrations before and I understand the value of being able to express your political belief or ideas in order to move a government. That’s why I’m mayor.”

On Thursday, the group Bodies Outside of Unjust Laws joined the ACLU of Illinois to file a federal lawsuit alleging the city wrongfully denied permits for the group to protest near the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue, an area where many Democratic delegates will be staying during the Aug. 19-22 convention. A pro-Palestinian group last month was part of a similar lawsuit against the city, and group leaders promised protesters would “make life miserable” for DNC organizers.

Still, Johnson on Friday said the denial of permits was to ensure “a safe, secure space” for demonstrators and to relieve traffic at the neighboring streets for local residents.

“As far as applications are concerned, there are parameters in which we are working with that individuals who wish to demonstrate, we’re asking those individuals work within those parameters,” Johnson said. “There’s a coordinated effort to ensure, again, a vibrant, energetic, well-displayed Chicago … while also keeping into consideration how we protect and keep demonstrators protected and secure.”

The latest lawsuit comes as several contentious issues continue to roil the nation and the Democratic Party, most notably the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas that has sparked protests on college campuses, including in Chicago. The high-profile police clashes in other cities have not materialized in Chicago yet.

But earlier Friday morning, University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos released a statement saying negotiations with pro-Palestinian student demonstrators have broken down and “we have reached the point” where the encampment at the Hyde Park campus must be cleared.

Asked whether he agrees with forcibly removing students, Johnson did not say.

“We’re going to continue to assess all of these demonstrations,” Johnson said. “We’re at a critical point in our nation’s history. And so protecting people’s First Amendment right is, of course, paramount. But again, it really requires full assessment.”

Snelling reiterated the support for free speech and added: “What we’re more concerned about than anything else is the safety of everyone. We can talk about the encampments, the question is what’s happening with the encampment. Are there violent acts at these locations? Are people in danger?”

“What we don’t want to do as a police department is escalate any situation unnecessarily,” Snelling said. “So we take our time, we assess these situations, and if it’s not necessary for us to go in and attempt to start removing people, then we won’t. What we’ll do is rely on the universities and the campuses to determine what needs to be done.”