CHICAGO—To reportedly target the city’s gang violence Mayor Lori Lightfoot is pushing to pass an ordinance permitting the city to sue alleged gang members, fine them and for police to seize their property. However, critics argue if enacted it would undoubtedly target and accuse Black and Latino youth of being involved in gangs and gang activity.
Civil rights organizations, activists and over 50 attorneys argue that the Victims Justice Ordinance is a “waste of time and energy.” In a letter written to the Chicago mayor January 19, the attorneys wrote, “Our clients don’t just want to be free from state violence—they want to live in safe, healthy, thriving communities. But for the reasons described further below, the Victims Justice Ordinance will only further the inequities that plague our city.”
The letter added that the law would also cost the city money in litigation and “perpetuate racial disparities in law enforcement practices.”
Chicago activists don’t feel any different. “I feel like it can be the wrong person, it’s a lot of loopholes with that,” LaSonya Alexandar told The Final Call regarding the mayor’s proposed ordinance. Her eldest son, Khaneen Alexandar, was wrongfully convicted and detained in 2020 and had just returned home.
“I would think sometimes she’s misguided. I’m not against her and I’m not for her. I understand the point they’re trying to make but there’s no definitive way you can prove things. I can’t say that I support that; my (oldest) son was convicted wrongfully,” added Ms. Alexandar.
The mayor’s press office did not respond to The Final Call’s request for comment.
In mid-September Mayor Lightfoot said in a press release introducing the ordinance, “… we are taking steps to expand the fight against violent street gangs by creating additional civil tools that will directly impact the profit motive used by these perpetrators who terrorize our communities.”
The Victims Justice Ordinance is modeled after the “1993 Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act” which allowed prosecutors to pursue civil cases and monetary damages against gang members.
There is an estimated 57-75 gangs with more than 100,000 members that operate within Chicago, reports the U.S. Justice Department website. According to news reports, Chicago saw 800 homicides in 2021 but it is unclear how many of these deaths were related to gang violence.
At presstime, city council was scheduled to hear testimony on the ordinance.
Angela Inzano of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois doesn’t believe the ordinance is up to date to address the city’s gang violence.
“The ordinance focuses on spending time on something that looks good on a press release,” she told The Final Call. “We’re concerned with the way the ordinance is vaguely targeting those in gangs. People are hungry for the city to invest in real solutions. I think we’ve seen violence reduction programs and mental health work.”
Benny Lee, co-founder of the National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated in Memphis told The Final Call, “I just believe when they come up with all that stuff, they target a lot of innocent brothers. A college boy in our neighborhood dresses like a gang member, their language is the same. You’re dealing with the same trauma that the gang members is dealing with. … I believe they need to get more in these neighborhoods.”
He said the best the mayor can do is focus on preventative and educational programs for youth and ex-felons returning to society.
“You got some guys coming home from prison under 25, but they left at 18 or 19 and probably was gang affiliated; what’s setup for when they come home? What leads a person to want to be violent?” he continued.
“I think Lori is simply trying to find a way to show White liberals that she cares about violence, but the reality is that it’s an outdated policy that will not work,” said Chicago youth activist Ja’Mal Green.
“It only will exacerbate the problem more than anything. We need to be talking about real solutions like investments in preventative causes so that folks won’t want to get into gang activity. … I think this is not what a Black mayor should be focusing on. It’s a waste of our time and energy.”