The recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota Police officers during an arrest have sparked nationwide demonstrations in cities across America, including the City of Chicago. Most demonstrations here started out peacefully with most citizens taking to the streets to express their point of view. But while the majority of Chicagoans obeyed the law, some gatherings quickly devolved into near riots as buildings were damaged, set on fire, merchandise stolen, and people injured. A curfew was then put into place to suppress further criminal activities and the Chicago Police were summoned in force to deal with the unrest along with the National Guard; also activated to assist with keeping the peace. As a result of the renewed police presence and certain citizen demonstrations, many people have since been arrested by the Chicago Police.
First, it should be made clear that demonstration and protest are perfectly legal and by itself, demonstrating can never be the basis for a lawful arrest. America itself was founded on protest, dating back to the very beginnings of our country. But under certain circumstances, legal demonstration can cross the line into criminal activity. What are the most common crimes that such protestors are being charged with in Chicago?
- Disorderly Conduct: There are many types of disorderly conduct in Illinois, but as the charge relates to protests, the most common allegation refers to a person who knowingly performs any act at all in such a way that disturbs or alarms another person and also provokes a breach of the peace. So in order to be properly charged with this crime in Chicago, the defendant would need to 1) do something “knowingly”, which is basically to say that it ‘s done on purpose and not by accident, such as tripping over another person accidentally, 2) it must reasonably “alarm or disturb” another person and “provoke a breach of the peace”. Every case is different, but throwing, stealing, breaking or lighting things on fire would clearly be considered disturbing to others and disruptive of the peace.
- Assault, Battery, Aggravated Assault & Aggravated Battery: A battery would occur if a protestor touched another person in a way that either hurt them or was even just merely offensive. This type of touching is usually considered a misdemeanor offense. But when it involves touching of a Chicago or other law enforcement officer, it is an aggravated battery, which means that it is potentially punishable by penitentiary time as a felony. Assault on the other hand, doesn’t involve a touching of the other person at all. It involves putting the other person in reasonable apprehension that they were about to get touched or injured, even if it never ended up happening. So, in the context of a demonstration, when a protestor throws something in the direction of another person, this will usually be considered an assault. Just like a battery, if the other person is a police officer, the assault will likely be considered the more serious crime of aggravated assault.
- Criminal Damage to Property: In Illinois, this crime involves a defendant who purposely damages the property of another without their consent. If it’s truly an accident, then it’s not likely a crime, such as when someone accidentally knocks over something fragile in a store. When that happens, you’re probably responsible for the cost of the item, but you’re not likely going to arrested for a mistake like that. On the other hand, if a person who purposely picks up a rock and breaks a store window or sprays graffiti on property not their own definitely commits a crime. If the amount of damage is small, it will likely be charged as a misdemeanor, but when the cost of repairing the property is large, it may be charged as a felony offense.
- Arson: During these protests in Chicago, a number of buildings, cars and other property were set on fire. When something that’s worth more than $150 is purposely set on fire, and the property doesn’t belong to the arsonist, and it’s done without permission of the owner, this is arson, which is a very serious offense. But even more serious a crime is aggravated arson, which involves an arson that occurs when the defendant knew or should have known that another person is present within the structure. When charged in this way, the offense may be a Class X felony punishable by mandatory extensive penitentiary time.
- Resisting or Obstructing Police: Another very common reason for the arrest of protestors is that they resisted or obstructed the police. Especially during demonstrations such as are happening now in Chicago, the police are instructing large numbers of people to do certain things in the name of public safety. Whether the instructions involve moving out of the way, standing in a certain location, putting down an object, leaving the area or going home due to curfew, when a lawful request by law enforcement is not complied with immediately, an arrest may quickly result.
Our Experienced Legal Team is Here to Help
For over 30 years, the attorneys of Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have been helping clients charged with these criminal offenses including the crimes mentioned above. Contact our office 24 hours a day to arrange a free consultation with a member of our legal team at (312) 644-0444.