Chicago police arrested about 130 Occupy Chicago protesters starting about 1 a.m. today after the group returned to Grant Park for the second weekend Saturday night and tried to maintain a camp in the park after its official closing time.
Police estimated that the crowd that showed up for a rally earlier in the evening peaked at around 3,000 people by the time protesters arrived in Congress Plaza at Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway after a march from Federal Plaza in the Loop.
As the 11 p.m. park closing approached, more than 100 people decided to stay in Congress Plaza in the park as several hundred more moved onto a nearby sidewalk or across Michigan Avenue, off park district property. Police announced several times that anyone still in the park would be arrested, and by midnight, about 100 people remained in the plaza, which had been cordoned off with police barricades.
The plaza was cleared by about 2:40 a.m., with about 130 people arrested, said Central Police District Cmdr. Christopher Kennedy. A few hundred people remained on sidewalks on the east and west sides of Michigan Avenue for a short time after the arrests ended, but most left by about 3 a.m. Those taken into custody were taken away in police vans and sheriff's department buses for booking at police district stations.
Saturday night, during the rally in Congress Plaza that preceded the arrests, protesters made speeches talking up the cause and declared their event peaceful. Police filmed parts of the protest.
Police say 175 people were arrested starting about 1 a.m. last Sunday, Oct. 16, when some involved in Occupy Chicago refused to leave the plaza after warnings from police. This morning's arrests repeated much of the same pattern, with some arrested while other protesters stood on a nearby sidewalk, chanting as people were led to police vehicles.
Early Sunday, protesters gathered in a tight group surrounding a medical tent in the center of the plaza. They chanted in call-and-response fashion, with questions such as "How we gonna get healthcare?," or "Fix schools," answered with "Tax, tax, tax the rich." Later, they switched to taunts of the police officers who encircled them, chanting "You serve the 99 percent," "Whose park? Our park!" and "Why no press? Let the media in!"
In the hour before the start of arrests, police surrounded the plaza with barricades and told protesters they would be arrested and could no longer leave the plaza, protesters said.
Earlier, during the rally, speakers, who turned the steps in front of the statue into a stage, said they have no intention of leaving. Some speakers didn't give a name, only referring to themselves as "one of the 99 percent."
"When I am asked to leave, I will not go far, and I will be back," one young man declared to loud applause. "The occupation is not leaving."
Marchers cited a variety of reasons for their involvement, from a need for tax increases on the wealthy, war funding and education. Signs ranged from "End the Fed" to calls to tax the wealthy.
"I have been waiting for a movement like this for a while," said 22-year-old University of Chicago graduate student Patrick Van Kessel.
Van Kessel, who was dressed in a suit and carried a sign that read "separation of corporations and state," said he was marching to put pressure on politicians to limit financial influence on government.
Jim Krok, 34, said he was marching because of what he feels is a lack of economic equality.
"I think this has been coming for a long time," he said while pulling a bicycle along the crowd.
Occupy Chicago is part of the larger Occupy movement that includes Occupy Wall Street and is targeting what participants see as undue corporate influence in government. The group has been protesting continuously in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago at LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard since Sept. 23.
The focus of rallies away from LaSalle Street have so far been Congress Plaza, underneath the 1928 statue "The Bowman" by Croatian sculptor Ivan Metrovic. Tonight, activists declared the area their "new home."
What police estimated were about 1,500 protesters gathered a little after 7 p.m and began to march to Grant Park. By about 7:45, most of the marchers had gathered in the north part of Congress Plaza east of Michigan Avenue, joining a smaller contingent of people who already had gathered there.
During the march, protesters leading the crowd and officers cooperated to keep the march on route, Kennedy said.
Last Saturday, police decided they could not allow protesters to spend the night in Grant Park because it would be harder to get them out later and set a bad precedent for dealing with demonstrators expected to come to Chicago during the G-8 and NATO summits to be held in May, a police source said early this week.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this week that he consulted with Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy before the arrests were made, and said he directed the city's Law Department to talk to protesters "to see if we can find a way to go forward so they can continue to express themselves …"
But Occupy Chicago has demanded that the city drop charges against protesters before any meetings take place because protesters believe the arrests violated their Constitutional rights.
"The 1st Amendment guarantees the American people the right to peaceably assemble," the group said in a statement. "Today we are going to use that right. Occupy Chicago calls on all local citizens to stand up and join us in this struggle."
The charges against those arrested Oct. 16 are being prosecuted in Cook County misdemeanor branch courts, under a city ordinance that gives Chicago police the authority to enforce parts of the Park District Code.
Tribune reporter Liam Ford contributedCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun