Lightfoot defends plan to sweep drug corners to reduce Fourth of July weekend violence

Karen Sheley of the ACLU of Illinois criticized “paternalistic claims that young men should be in jail for their own safety.”

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Chicago police investigate the scene of a shooting in West Englewood in June.

Chicago police investigate the scene where a toddler was shot earlier this week in West Englewood.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Despite warnings that preemptive sweeps will “drive a wedge between police and communities of color,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday stood firmly behind Chicago Police Supt. David Brown’s decision to sweep young people off drug corners over the July Fourth weekend to prevent another holiday bloodbath.

Brown has branded arrests tied to possession of guns and open-air drug markets “precursors to violence” and vowed to sweep those corners of the young people put there by drug dealers.

The superintendent has pleaded with State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Circuit Court Judge Tim Evans to keep them in jail — at least over the long holiday weekend — to prevent a continuation of the violence that has gunned down four children over the last 10 days alone.

Wednesday, Lightfoot argued the cynical tactic of using young people without criminal records was “shades of Larry Hoover from the 1990’s,” referring to the imprisoned leader of the Gangster Disciples.

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She noted “drug enterprises” are “literally willing to fight to the deaths to keep those spots” because some corners can earn them $30,000 to $50,000 a day.

“Those gangs — they’re not out on the street. They’re reaping the bounty, but they’re putting these kids out on the street to do their dirty work. Kids who have a future. Kids who have a life,” the mayor said.

“We’ve got to stop that from happening. And that means going up the food chain and getting the adults responsible for these heinous crimes and putting them behind bars. That’s what the superintendent was talking about.”

Karen Sheley, director of the police practices project at the ACLU of Illinois, condemned the plans for preemptive sweeps as “more of the same” from a Chicago Police Department that missed 70 percent of the deadlines to comply with mandates in the consent decree triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“The plan to sweep up Black and Brown young men in their neighborhoods across the City could have been uttered by a number of his predecessors in leadership of the CPD. We have heard this all before — paternalistic claims that young men should be in jail for their own safety,” Sheley was quoted as saying in a statement.

“This approach only further drive a wedge between the CPD and communities of color. The Superintendent again offers the dangerous suggestion that time in Cook County Jail is for these young people’s own good. This is a terrible idea in the best of times – in the midst of a pandemic, it could be a death sentence for these young men or members of their family on release.” 

Lightfoot sloughed off the criticism.

“If any civil liberties group has a problem with people who are killing our people over drug spots, let’s have a conversation because you need to have your attitude readjusted,” the mayor said.

“We’ve got criminal enterprises that are using vulnerable young people. We all should be appalled by that. And I think they are. But we all ought to be because that’s wrong. No child should be manipulated in that way. And that’s about us building up this ecosystem of support around our young people so they actually have hope and healthy choices and alternatives so they don’t feel like the only life they can lead is being on the corner supporting somebody else’s criminal enterprise.”

In announcing the plan to sweep drug corners, Brown argued those young people he called “shorties” are being used because they have no criminal records and, therefore, face lighter penalties if caught. He also complained that, even when they are arrested, they’re in and out of jail quickly.

“Every day we’re going to be clearing drug corners to protect these young people from the violence. But when we clear the corner, we’re pleading with the court systems: Keep them in jail through the weekend,” the superintendent said.

“If we make an arrest Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we’re pleading [for them to be held] through the weekend, at least. Let’s protect these young people, who are a victim of their circumstances in many cases. They have no other opportunity.”

Lightfoot blamed a spate of recent violence not seen since 2016 on a “perfect storm, which means the worst possible circumstances.”

“We have almost three months of COVID-19 where people were compelled to stay inside. …Some of our law enforcement partners have not been fully online because of their own concern about the risk. The jail, the courts, the federal partners. And what we still see, though, are the underlying root causes of violence. That’s poverty, lack of hope, despair, not enough access to the things that build healthy and strong families and communities,” she said.

“Those challenges remain. But they’re all being kind of compressed in the same set of circumstances.”

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