Chicago wants to sue gang members for their property. Criminal experts say it won’t quell gun violence.
CHICAGO – As Chicago enters another explosive year for gun violence, Mayor Lori Lightfoot tries to help quell the bloodshed by pushing for an ordinance that allows the city to prosecute gang members to seize their property – a decision that many support is wrong.
Lightfoot presented the Victims Justice Ordinance last week, which would give the city the possibility of bringing a civil lawsuit against “the street gangs, their leaders and the members who profit from illegal and violent acts” and allow the city to recover ” compensatory and punitive damages, forfeiture of property, reduction and injunction where it is established that the defendant has engaged in criminal gang activity. It would also allow courts to fine an individual up to $ 10,000 for each offense and would seek the seizure of any property that gangs have obtained through illegal means such as drug trafficking or trafficking. other crimes.
“To be frank and clear, we are looking for their blood money,” Lightfoot said at a press conference last week. “The activity of criminal gangs imposes substantial costs on the city, residents and the neighborhoods in which they operate. If we are successful, we will seize their assets and disrupt the financial lifelines that support this criminal activity and fuel their dominance in our city, ”she said, adding that the strategy is an“ additional tool ”to prosecute the perpetrators. of violence.
While Lightfoot wants to hit the pockets, criminal experts have said the tactic is ineffective as the gangs, which are now mostly fragmented, are no longer at the root of most gun violence in the city and the ordinance could actually cause more harm to communities of color by adding another layer of legal entanglement and financial drain.
The city has faced about 2,600 shootings this year, up 10% from the same period last year, according to theChicago Police Department data.
Despite data to prove otherwise, Lightfoot blamed gangs, especially gang leaders who she said are responsible for “portraying the most harm in our communities.”
Last year, the Chicago Police Department listed just 7% of non-fatal shootings as gang-related, up from 34% five years earlier, according to The trace, a non-profit media devoted to news related to firearms.
The nature and structure of gangs has changed dramatically over the past two decades, and the ‘kingpins’ the mayor is talking about no longer exist, said Lance Williams, professor of urban community studies at Northeastern Illinois University. who also lives on the South Side. from Chicago. This is an outdated approach to an outdated idea of what gangs are, he added.
Most “gangs” are loosely associated and disjointed and end up being people you grew up with or know in some way or another, but they are labeled as officially organized gangs, which they don’t. is not correct, he said.
Williams said the police definition of gangs is not entirely clear and anyone can fall under that definition indiscriminately, leaving room for unwarranted litigation under the proposed order.
“Most violence is caused by interpersonal conflict, the root of which is stress, poverty, hopelessness and hopelessness,” he said. This approach will only lock people who are already disenfranchised into the legal system, and in the civil system, you pay everything out of your pocket, which will drain people of the few resources they have with no real effect on society. violence, he said.
“The only solution to this problem is to bring economic viability back to those areas where people are so remote from the economy,” he said.
The controversial proposal is making its way through local legislative channels and has yet to be enacted. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has previously advised city council members to reject it.
“Taking over people’s property – including innocent family members and others – is not an effective way to reduce gun violence. Similar attempts have been made in surrounding towns, and public pledges to confiscate gang members’ assets have not materialized, ”said Colleen Connell, executive director of the Illinois ACLU, in a statement. declaration. “The mayor’s time would be better spent on the real work of reducing violence, which includes investing in communities, reforming policing practices and expanding access to social and mental health services. “
The city has also come under heavy criticism for its use of a database of gang members that wrongly tagged several people, especially black and Latino residents, with no history of gang membership or gang membership. criminal involvement.
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said the database is still in use, that the names it contains “have been verified” and that an appeal process for those who believe they have. wrongly placed in the database is being finalized, the Chicago Tribune reported.
This legal hard line is far from new.
“There’s a long history of Chicago and other cities that have tried to tackle what they perceive to be gang violence with things like injunctions, gang databases, which have all been unsuccessful attempts that have racked up litigation costs and failed to address the underlying causes of the violence, ”said Sheila Bedi, professor at Northwestern University School of Law and director of Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic.
Several outlying Chicago counties have tried the approach with nominal success. Cities like San Francisco and Fort Worth, Texas have also experimented with similar strategies in the past.
When asked if community groups were consulted before moving the ordinance forward, the mayor’s office said it “is at the proposal stage and conversations are underway with community groups, local leaders, residents and other relevant stakeholders to gather feedback and further articulate the need for the ordinance “but are confident in the approach because” asset forfeiture is being used as a widespread tool in law enforcement and public safety circles, “in a statement to NBC News.
“Under this proposal, which is worded so broadly, a child doing graffiti that uses a gang symbol could be held accountable, or a mother who is perceived to have someone who is a gang member at home. she could be held responsible. “
The approach will actually hurt black and brown communities, Bedi said, as it will result in additional divestment and provide another layer of targeting for those communities. All at the expense of Chicago taxpayers who will likely spend millions defending this law before seeing a dime in clawback, she added.
“He is using gangs as a scapegoat, which for many people means black and brown youth, as the root cause, as opposed to the historic divestment of our neighborhoods,” she said. “This is actually the exact opposite of what we need to do to tackle inter-communal violence.”