Chicago mayor’s plan to prosecute gangs, confiscate their assets falters

Days before Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was scheduled to vote on her controversial plan to prosecute gang members as an anti-violence tactic, she sent an emotional message to several city council members voicing their support.

“We must send a strong message to the gangs that we will take away their profits which were over $26M last year. I wouldn’t press it without proper checks and balances and, as you know, we’ll have to file that in court, and a judge will determine if we’ve met our burden of proof,” Lightfoot said in a text message. Said, which he apparently copied and pasted to several different aldermen in February.

“For me, it will be an essential tool we need in fighting crime. I hope we can count on your support. Ask me if you have more questions.”

Despite personal outreach, Lightfoot has so far failed to gather enough support for its so-called Victims Justice Ordinance, which would allow the city to prosecute gang members and attempt to seize their assets. Days after Lightfoot began his efforts to personally lobby the aldermen, two city council aides moved to delay a vote on the ordinance, and he did not bring it back for consideration.

When asked about the delay, the mayor said he needed to “educate” members about the importance of the law, which faced criticism from all sides of the political aisle.

John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, previously blasted the plan as “a waste of everyone’s time to pretend she is doing some substance”. Meanwhile, civil rights lawyers argued that the city would violate people’s civil rights and confiscate property from grandmothers who are not involved in gang life, causing more problems down the street.

Lightfoot’s inability to provide adequate support for a law that he said was the key to public safety reflects the wider challenge of building strong relationships with other elected officials across the state. Aldermen often criticize the administration for its lack of communication and Lightfoot often does not directly lobby city council members for their support.

The City Council will not return to session until September, which will be a full year since Lightfoot introduced its ordinance. The chair of her elected public safety committee, Eld. Chris Taliaferro told the Tribune he doesn’t know if the motion is coming back “because it’s his ordinance, but I haven’t heard anything from him on that. I haven’t heard anything about whether he’s going to pursue it.” making plans.”

Getting the aldermen to support the measure will likely remain a challenge, although she may still be able to generate support by pressuring the city council over the crime. Her efforts stalled in February, however, text messages issued by the city show. North Side Eld. Matt Martin, a freshman council member, responded to Lightfoot’s text, “I know we all see public safety as our top priority, and recognize the urgent need to address that trauma and instability. Which has become the cause of street gangs.”

“While I would not support the VJO (Victims Justice Ordinance), I do share your commitment to using many other tools to improve public safety in the short and long term – including violence prevention organizations and our summer youth employment. The program includes expanding the reach, increasing the number of spies, and strengthening our region and regional carjacking task forces,” Martin wrote, according to records released by the mayor’s office in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

North Side Eld. Harry Osterman, who is the elected chairman of Lightfoot’s housing committee, simply replied, “Mayor Lightfoot I will not be on the VJO ordinance.”

“Understood,” he texted back.

Several aldermen apparently did not text back on the mayor’s message, including the then-eld. Michael Scott, who faced pressure from West Side civil rights leaders to oppose the ordinance. Northwest Side aldermen Ariel Reboyras, Samantha Nugent and Anthony Napolitano among others expressed their support.

Lightfoot texted the aldermen to request their support, indicating symbolic importance to the mayor, who has been struggling to reduce violence crime since the start of big spikes in 2020.

Rogers Park Eld. Maria Hayden issued a detailed explanation in February as to why she opposed the ordinance, saying it would not be worth the hours of manpower and exposed the city to liability if authorities wrongfully confiscated property. can go.

“If this ordinance is passed, it will appear that the mayor and city council are doing something important to address crime and a frustrated police department and the public need more tools to combat organized criminal activity. Looking is giving false hope,” Hayden wrote. “In a worst-case scenario, this ordinance would encourage two of the city’s powerful departments — the police and the law — to push the limits of respect for civil rights and eliminate valuable time and tax dollars in exchange for negligible financial gain.”

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Ordinances are in place to tackle the high level of violent crime in the city.

The nearly 800 murders in Chicago last year marked the highest number of deaths from gun violence in the city since the mid-1990s. There were about 4,300 shootings in Chicago last year, which is a huge jump compared to 2018 when about 2,800 people were shot.

Official department figures show that so far this year, those were down 16% from the same period in 2021, with Chicago police recording 379 through Sunday, compared to 452 last year. The total number of shooting victims was down nearly 20% in 2021, with 1,969 people shot non-fatally or fatally on Sunday, compared to 2,455 people were shot at the same time last year, the figures show.

At news conferences on crime, Lightfoot often notes that the city has recorded fewer shootings and homicides this year and calls it good progress, although she says the city needs to do more.

What she doesn’t mention, however, is that carjackings are up to 947 through Sunday, compared to 879 during the same period in 2021. Violence has also escalated rapidly in the city, raising concerns about the city’s economic engine.

The Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner contributed.

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