Mayor Lori Lightfoot remained defiant before a crucial vote by the Chicago City Council on her plan to fight crime by going after the profits earned by Chicago’s gangs, even as months of intense criticism reached a crescendo.
Sixteen members of the Chicago City Council, including two-thirds of the Progressive Caucus and several of Lightfoot’s closest allies, have said they plan to vote against the proposal, according to an analysis by WTTW News.
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell said an effective crime fighting strategy does not involve passing laws because they might work at a time when homicides, carjackings and other violent crimes are surging.
“This will put innocent people at risk,” Mitchell said. “Grandparents, other family members and innocent members of the community.”
But despite the buzzsaw of opposition, Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference that the City Council should vote to give the city the power to seize the assets of gangs and adult gang leaders. The measure calls for each offense to be punished with fines ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 for first offenses and $20,000 to $30,000 for second offenses. Lightfoot has promised that at least half of the fines collected by the city would have to be earmarked to help the victims of gang crimes.
Last month, Lightfoot acknowledged that she had work to do to convince civil rights groups and police reform advocates that the measure would stop crime, without threatening the financial stability of Chicagoans already struggling to make ends meet.
But on Tuesday, Lightfoot said she would not “sit idly by and watch the level of gang violence that we’ve seen and not do anything.”
Opponents of the measure should listen to “what I hear almost every time I’m out in the community: `Save us from these gangs. Do something to stop this violence that is terrorizing our neighborhoods,” Lightfoot said.
The measure will target those who wantonly spray bullets, hitting innocent bystanders, Lightfoot said.
But Marshall Hatch, the pastor of New Mt. Pilgrim MB Church in West Garfield Park and a police reform advocate told WTTW News the mayor had not convinced him the measure would reduce crime.
Instead, Hatch said he was certain that it would only serve to further “destabilize” neighborhoods wracked by violence and poverty.
“It is a waste of time and energy,” Hatch said, adding that he believed would be used by police officers to “harass” Black and Latino Chicagoans.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety John O’Malley and Chicago Police Department Deputy Chief Ernest Cato told alderpeople the measure would give them a new way to fight crime by threatening the only thing that gang leaders care about — their money.
O’Malley and Cato were repeatedly pressed by members of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus to share evidence backed up by data that similar laws had been effective in reducing gang violence. Both acknowledged that they have no evidence to show that the proposal has worked in other cities and states.
The measure is also opposed by the ACLU of Illinois and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara who called it “political theater.”
The measure requires those facing the loss of property to be notified before the court case against them begins in earnest. Owners could prevent the loss of their property by convincing a judge they did not know it had been used for criminal purposes or “acquired through street gang related activity.”
In addition, if the city is seeking to seize a car, a family member could be given the vehicle if they can prove the loss of the vehicle would cause a financial hardship because they need it to get to work or to transport other family members, according to the proposal.
After the resignation of former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th Ward) after he was convicted on federal criminal charges, Lightfoot needs 25 votes to pass the measure.
Opponents of the proposal did not rule out using a parliamentary procedure to block a vote on Wednesday. That would send the proposal to the next City Council meeting, which could take place on Friday.
If the mayor does find enough votes to pass the measure, it will come without the support of four of her closest allies on the City Council, including Budget Committee Chair Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward).
Dowell, who is running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Chicago, called the measure “ill-conceived.”
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]