Protestors Blocking Major Roads Could Face Charges

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local NewsAfter a group of pro-Palestinian protesters blocked expressway traffic into O’Hare International Airport earlier this month, and now Illinois lawmakers are pushing to make similar protests a felony.

State Representative Dan Ugaste (R-Geneva) has proposed legislation that would amend the Illinois Public Demonstrations Law to make it a Class 4 felony – punishable by 1 to 3 years in prison – for anyone to block “an exceptionally busy public right-of-way” for 5 minutes or longer in a way that prevents police, firefighters, paramedics, or other emergency responders from getting through.

The bill (HB 5819) comes on the heels of recent pro-Palestinian protests that blocked traffic on I-190 near Chicago O’Hare International Airport, causing mayhem for many travelers. The law would define an “exceptionally busy public right-of-way” as any road that carries at least 24,000 vehicles in a 24-hour period.

“In light of the recent protests cutting off traffic near O’Hare Airport, it’s time to bring greater charges to people who commit these acts,” Ugaste said in a news release. “What happens when an ambulance can’t get through, or a fire truck is delayed? Lives are at stake, and first responders cannot be held up in this manner. Blocking busy roadways is very dangerous and stronger punishments should be enforced.”

Ugaste’s district includes several western and northwestern suburbs west of O’Hare. During the protest, vehicles could not drive to the arrival or departure terminals at O’Hare to drop off or pick up travelers. Several travelers who got stuck in the resulting traffic jam ended up walking along the shoulder of the expressway to get to O’Hare, while others missed their flights. Police arrested 40 protesters before the road reopened. Similar protests were held the same day in other cities. Currently, Ugaste’s bill has been referred to the Rules Committee.

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