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EDITORIAL: Back to the drawing board on Chicago’s gang loitering ordinance

Chicago police officers at the scene of a shooting last year in the 3500 block of West Van Buren in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on the West Side. | Jon Seidel/Sun-Times

Drug dealing that makes you afraid to wait in a bus shelter or catch a train to work.

Nine shootings in a month within two blocks of your home.

Worst of all, coming home to find strangers sitting on your porch or selling heroin in a hallway. Imagine how much scarier that scenario would be if you were a senior citizen.

EDITORIAL

West Side residents who packed City Council chambers this week told these stories, and others, to make a powerful case for Ald. Jason Ervin’s ordinance aimed at “prostitution-related loitering.”

If those stories aren’t compelling enough, look at the numbers: Ervin’s ward, the 28th, ranked second citywide in reported crime over the past three months, with 2,835 incidents, according to the Chicago Police Department’s ClearMap, an interactive crime-tracking tool. The neighboring 24th and 27th wards ranked right below that, with similar numbers.

Compare that to the adjacent 29th and 37th wards on the Northwest Side, with just some 700 incidents reported apiece. Something’s got to give here.

The city has to make it possible for everyday, hard-working citizens to live peacefully in their homes and neighborhoods. But, at the same time, any ordinance has to respect basic civil rights, and that’s where the problem gets tricky. The city’s previous anti-gang loitering ordinance, of which we were highly critical at the time, led to tens of thousands of discriminatory arrests and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the law as too vague.

The ordinance was rewritten to pass legal muster, but that can’t be the end of the story, not when so many Chicagoans are feeling up against it every time they walk out the door. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and find some way to toughen the ordinance, and improve police effectiveness overall. Seniors are afraid to leave their homes and children can’t play in their own yards for fear of crime.

Surely there are enough smart lawyers working for the city to do so without infringing on civil rights. And maybe a few more blue-light security cameras might help, if Ervin and his constituents want them.

Last but certainly not least, the best long-term crime deterrent is a decent education and a good-paying job. But the opportunities for both are few and far between on the West Side, which lacks decent schools and economic development.

Here’s a question for everyone on Chicago’s growing list of mayoral candidates: What are you going to do about that?

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