West Side residents plead for stronger anti-gang loitering ordinance

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The City Council chambers were packed with West Side residents Tuesday urging aldermen to approved the prostitution loitering ordinance championed by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). | Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

West Side residents packed the City Council chambers on Tuesday to plead for a stronger anti-gang loitering ordinance action to “take back” neighborhood streets overrun with gangbangers, drug dealers and prostitutes.

“While I was sitting in my chair waiting for this meeting to start, I watched four drug transactions on my phone with my security surveillance cameras. This has got to stop,” Belvie Foster said.

“This was a nice field trip. It was a nice subject matter. We don’t want to come back down here for subject matter. When can we vote?”

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety took no action on proposals by West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) to start by outlawing “prostitution-related loitering” – by designating areas of the city where hookers could be ordered to disperse for an eight-hour period — then move on to other forms of loitering.

But it was only because it will be so difficult to craft a rewrite that can pass legal muster after Chicago’s more stringent anti-gang loitering ordinance was overturned more than 20 years ago.

The delay had nothing to do with gauging local sentiment. That was crystal clear.

Kimberly Muhammad said she’s afraid to stand in the bus shelter near her West Garfield Park home because it’s being used as a “trading site” for illegal drugs. Nor can she board the Blue Line train without seeing the “same people” day and night selling drugs.

“It is literally an open market for illegal activity. People drive up and get curbside service. I’m not telling you what I heard. I’m telling you what I witness daily,” Muhammad said as the crowd cheered.

Within the last 12 months, Muhammad said nine people have been shot “on or within two blocks” of her home. Four of them were killed. Coming home to “red and yellow crime scene tape” is like “living in a war zone,” she said.

“It is unacceptable to have seniors afraid to leave their homes because unfamiliar people are sitting on their porches as if they live there and pay the bills. And even worse, these same people confiscate the hallways of a senior’s property as if it were theirs and they’re using it to sell illegal drugs, mainly heroin, to all kinds of strange people walking up and down the blocks looking like zombies all day long,” Muhammad said.

“It is unacceptable that, as a taxpaying resident, you are afraid for your children and grandchilderen to play outside in their own yards because you don’t want them to get stuck by a used needle or a used condom or worst of all, you’re afraid they may get shot or killed by the barrage of gunfire heard daily outside of your homes,” she said.

Pastor DeWayne Davis Sr. of New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church at Hamlin and Adams said he’s forced to wade through empty beer and liquor bottles on his way in to Sunday church services because of the “loitering” on Saturday nights.

Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, cautioned aldermen to tread softly before making the watered down ordinance any tougher.

“We saw the effects of a broad, sweeping loitering ordinance in the late 1990s — mass arrests of young men of color, many of whom were guilty of nothing more than being in their own neighborhoods,” Yohnka wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

Chicago’s initial crackdown against street-corner gang activity in 1992 resulted in more than 42,000 arrests in three years before a string of adverse court decisions forced the city to suspend enforcement in December 1995.

During the summer of 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed the ordinance was too vague but gave the city a legal road map to rewrite the law so it might pass constitutional muster.

Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Law Department followed it to the letter – by clearly defining “gang and narcotics loitering” and limiting enforcement to designated “hot spots” identified by police and neighborhood residents.

On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sounded willing to try again.

“You have a lot of people hanging on the corner that aren’t doing anything productive.…This is as challenging for certain communities as the prevalence of gun violence. And therefore, it can’t be an either or choice for us,” Emanuel said.

“We’re gonna have to deal with the gun violence … and also change the quality of life as it relates to making sure that gang members or drug dealers are not owning the street corners that residents have the right to pass and the right to feel safe on.”

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