Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to indict gang members and confiscate their properties fails amid criticism of crime and civil rights

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Days before councilors were due to vote on Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s controversial plan to indict gang members as a strategy against violence, she texted a passionate message to several city council members asking for their support.

“We need to send a strong signal to gangs that we will take their profits, which were over $26 million last year. I wouldn’t press this without the proper checks and balances and as you know we will have to file a lawsuit, and a judge will determine whether we have met our burden of proof,” Lightfoot said in a text message, which she apparently copied. and stuck to various individual aldermen in February.

“For me, this will be an essential tool we need in the fight against crime. I hope we can count on your support. Let me know if you have any questions.”

However, despite its personal reach, Lightfoot has so far failed to gain enough support for her so-called Victims’ Justice Ordinance, which would allow the city to sue gang members and attempt to confiscate their assets. Days after Lightfoot launched her effort to personally lobby councilors, two city council allies decided to postpone the vote on the ordinance, and she hasn’t returned it for consideration.

When asked about the delay, the mayor said she needs to “educate” members about the importance of the legislation, which has been criticized from all sides of the political aisle.

The chairman of the fraternal order of police, John Catanzara, previously dismissed the plan as “a waste of everyone’s time pretending to be doing something substantial”. Civil rights lawyers, meanwhile, argued that the city would end up violating people’s civil rights and confiscating property from grandmothers not involved in gang life, creating more problems later on.

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Lightfoot’s inability to gain sufficient support for a law she believed was key to public safety reflects the broader challenge she faced in building strong relationships with other elected officials in the state. Councilors regularly criticize the board for a lack of communication, and Lightfoot doesn’t often directly lobby councilors for their support.

The city council won’t be back in session until September, which will be a full year since Lightfoot introduced its ordinance. Her hand-picked chairman of the public safety committee, Ald. Chris Taliaferro told the Tribune he doesn’t know if the proposal will come back “because it’s her ordinance, but I haven’t heard from her about that. I haven’t heard anything about whether she plans to pursue that further.”

Getting councilors to back the measure is likely to remain a challenge, although she may still be able to gain support by putting pressure on the city council on crime. However, her efforts in February stalled, as evidenced by text messages from the city. North side Ald. Matt Martin, a freshman councilor, responded to Lightfoot’s text: “I know we all consider public safety our top priority and recognize the need to urgently address the trauma and instability that street gangs continue to cause.”

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

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North side Ald. Harry Osterman, the hand-picked chair of Lightfoot’s Housing Committee, replied simply, “Mayor Lightfoot, I’ll be a no to the VJO ordinance.”

“Got it,” she texted back.

Several aldermen apparently do not text back to the message from the mayor, also Ald at the time. Michael Scott, who was pressured by West Side civil rights leaders to oppose the ordinance. Others, including Northwest Side councilors Ariel Reboyras, Samantha Nugent and Anthony Napolitano expressed support.

That Lightfoot texted councilors asking for their support reflects the symbolic importance to the mayor, who has struggled to tackle violent crime since 2020 ushered in major spikes.

Rogers Park Ald. Maria Hadden gave a detailed explanation in February of why she was against the ordinance, saying it would not be worth the labor hours and could hold the city liable if officials seized property unlawfully.

“If this ordinance is passed, it will appear, at best, as if the mayor and city council are doing something important to tackle crime and give false hope to a frustrated police station and public seeking more tools to combat organized crime.” activities,” Hadden said. wrote. “At worst, this ordinance will encourage two powerful city agencies—police and justice—to push the boundaries of respecting civil rights and exhausting precious time and tax dollars in exchange for negligible financial gain.”

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The ordinance is languishing as the city still faces high levels of violent crime.

The approximately 800 homicides that occurred in Chicago last year marked the highest death toll from gun violence in the city since the mid-1990s. There were about 4,300 shootings in Chicago last year, a huge jump from 2018 when about 2,800 people were shot.

So far, this year’s homicide rate had fallen 16% from the same period in 2021, with the Chicago Police Department recording 379 through Sunday, compared to 452 last year, official statistics from the department show. The number of total shooting victims fell by nearly 20% from 2021, with 1,969 people being shot nonfatally or fatally through Sunday, while 2,455 people were shot at the same time last year, statistics show.

At crime press conferences, Lightfoot regularly notes that the city has recorded fewer shootings and murders this year and calls it good progress, although she adds that the city needs to do more.

What she fails to mention, however, is that there have been 947 car thefts through Sunday, compared to 879 in the same period in 2021. Violence has also increased downtown, raising concerns about the city’s economic engine.

Jeremy Gorner of TNZT contributed.

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