Chicago’s curfew was illegal and a mistake

If you remove the arrests made on the first night of the curfew, an astonishing 93% of those arrested for curfew violations were Black.

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Chicago Police Department officers gather as curfew nears during a demonstration on June 6.

Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

The eight-night Chicagowide curfew enforced by the police in the wake of protests against police violence targeting Black people was unconstitutional and the wrong response.

The ACLU made this case moments after the curfew was announced, expressing concern that the curfew would be used to restrict constitutionally protected speech and protest and that it would be enforced in a biased way against Black people. Data about how the curfew was enforced validate both concerns. 

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On May 30, with thousands of people protesting in the streets and plazas of the Loop, the city announced by Twitter that it would impose a curfew beginning only 20 minutes later. The city made matters worse by raising all bridges across the Chicago River except for one and by shutting down CTA service into and out of the Loop.

A recent Sun-Times report, examining data of arrests during the curfew, confirms our fears that protesters had no notice of the curfew and that “hundreds of people [were] trapped in the Loop” due to the city’s actions. The data show that in the first few moments after the curfew, police arrested hundreds of people in the Loop area. 

Chicago’s sordid history of racism shows that whenever police are given unfettered discretion to stop or arrest people, the police invariably stop, frisk, and arrest more people of color — even without reasonable suspicion or probable cause of wrongdoing. Before Illinois’ new cannabis law took effect this year, Black people in our state were seven times more likely to be arrested for simple possession than white people, despite data showing that these groups use cannabis at comparable rates. Traffic stop data reported every year show that Black drivers are far more likely to be subject to a consent search — a vehicle search based on the hunch or gut feeling of an officer — than white drivers. This disparity has remained in the data for entire 15 years that Illinois has been collecting this information. 

A 2015 report by the ACLU revealed that more than 70% of all people subjected to police pedestrian stops were Black, even though Black people make up only about 32% of the city’s population. These examples show that when police are given latitude about who to stop, the police stop Black people far more than any other group of people in Chicago.

So it is not surprising that data reported out by the Sun-Times on arrests for curfew violations shows that most of the arrests conducted by Chicago police during the time of curfew targeted Black people. Over the eight nights the curfew was enforced, 75% of all those arrested for curfew violations were Black. Given the racial diversity in the protests following the murder of George Floyd, there seems little explanation for this.

But the data gets even worse the deeper one digs. If you remove the arrests made on the first night of the curfew, an astonishing 93% of those arrested for curfew violations were Black. 93%.

Despite primarily enforcing the curfew in Black neighborhoods, we see that CPD did little to protect Black and Brown neighborhoods — reports that were corroborated by this newspaper’s own reporting about CPD officers lounging in Congressman Rush’s office — without permission — while neighboring businesses were vandalized and looted.

The protests continue and so do the call for fundamental reforms in our country. It is sad that the city’s response to those calls was to permit the police to abuse their powers to arrest hundreds of Black people in Chicago, many of whom were doing little other than protesting police abuse. 

Colleen K. Connell, a lawyer, has been executive director of the ACLU of Illinois since 2001. 

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