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

Mayor Brandon Johnson on Friday disputed the notion his administration is unprepared for the Democratic National Convention or 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 Superintendent 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.

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 answer directly, saying his administration would “continue to assess all of these demonstrations.”