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Chicago Mayor’s New Strategy To Control Crime: Lawsuits Against Street Gangs

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CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 30: Police investigate the murder of a young man found shot to death in the back seat of a bullet-riddled car on June 30, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. More than 300 people have been killed and more than 1700 wounded by gunfire in Chicago this year. On June 1, a task force was formed by the Chicago police, Illinois state police and the ATF to combat the gun violence in the city. ATF has formed similar task forces on a temporary basis to fight regional spikes in gun violence. Chicago's task force is the only one in the nation formed with the idea to be permanent. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chicago is on pace for a record-setting number of murders, and the city’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has struggled to address the spike in violence, focusing, largely, on issues like illegal gun trafficking and income inequality — issues that predate the 15% rise in shootings the city has seen over 2020, a year of similarly record-breaking violence.

On Tuesday, Lightfoot announced a new approach to curbing what appears to be a burgeoning gang war: an ordinance that would “allow the city to file lawsuits and go after gang members’ and leaders’ assets,” according to Chicago’s NBC affiliate.

“The ordinance, which the Chicago Tribune reports could allow fines as high as $10,000 for each offense and give courts the ability to seize ‘any property that is directly or indirectly used or intended for use in any manner to facilitate street gang-related activity,’ was introduced during a City Council meeting,” the outlet noted.

The idea is to “deprive the gangs of funds” by targeting gang leaders, Lightfoot said, when questioned whether the law would unfairly target low-income people of color living in gang-infested neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides.

“We have an opportunity to bring these violent street gangs into civil court, out of the shadows, expose them for what they are,” Lightfoot said in a press conference announcing the measure. “And if we’re successful, and I think we will be, take their assets and the profit motive for killing our babies.”

There are already questions as to whether the law will even be effective, particularly given that a similar law, the Illinois Street Gang Prevention Act, has been in use in the Chicago suburbs for years with few results.

The American Civil Liberties Union told Chicago media that it is concerned that communities of color will be targeted and deprived of resources, given that the Chicago Police Department’s gang database contains the names of “thousands of people” who were unfairly labeled as gang members.

“It is astonishing to hear the Mayor and law enforcement officials pretend that this power would be used solely in a targeted fashion against gang members,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The City had to scrap use of its flawed gang database because it included thousands people without who had no history of gang membership or criminal involvement. It is hard to see how their capacity about who to target has improved since that time.”

Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, though, are under pressure to do something about the near-record number of shootings. On Wednesday alone, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, 3 people were killed and 14 wounded in violent incidents across the city.

“According to newly-released crime statistics for the month of July, murders in the city were nearly the same as the number reported last year, but shootings increased by 15% and the number of people shot in the city rose by nearly 10% year-over-year,” NBC Chicago said in a separate report.

The numbers are somewhat misleading given that 2020 was a record year for violence in Chicago. Both 2020 and 2021’s numbers are “significantly higher than those recorded in 2019 when 290 people were killed in the first seven months of the year.” The current 2021 tally represents a “53.4% increase” over 2019.

As of Tuesday, gun violence was a greater threat to children in Chicago than COVID-19, according to the New York Post.

“The Windy City’s seen 261 kids shot in 2021, 41 fatally. Yet the entire state’s seen just 25 under-18s die with COVID, per the Illinois Department of Public Health,” the Post’s editorial board noted. “Nationwide, that count is 214 fatalities — and it only means they’d tested positive, not that the coronavirus was the cause of death.”

A previous version of this article stated Chicago has had a 15% rise in murders. It’s had a 15% rise in shootings. 

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