City Council should vote no on asset forfeiture ordinance

City Hall should focus instead on anti-crime measures with a proven track record.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021.

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday will vote on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed new law allowing the city to seize the assets of gang members.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

City Council members are scheduled to vote Wednesday on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed ordinance that would give the city power to use the civil courts to seize assets from suspected gang members.

Chicagoans feel beset by crime these days, and a mayor’s responsibility is to show smart leadership on public safety.

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But Lightfoot’s so-called “Victim’s Justice Ordinance,” is a wrong step, rife with unanswered questions and rank conjecture, instead of facts, about its efficacy.

The City Council should vote it down.

‘Not talking about low-level drug dealers’

If approved, the ordinance would focus on alleged gang members convicted of at least two criminal offenses in the last five years. One of the crimes must be “a violent or predatory felony motivated by gang-related profit,” public safety Deputy Mayor John O’Malley told a City Council committee last week.

But how effective would this ordinance be in a town where the lion’s share of street violence isn’t committed directly by monied, gun-toting kingpins — but by a splintered network of smaller gangs, concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods, whose members are as likely to open fire over a non gang-related social media beef as they are over any drug deal?

“We are not talking about low-level drug dealers on the street,” O’Malley told the committee. “We are talking about established gang members who do have assets.”

But what kind of assets? Vacation homes in Grand Beach? Or an old Toyota Cressida riding on a donut for a spare tire?

We don’t know. The Lightfoot administration hasn’t told the public, despite the ordinance being kicked around for months. This editorial board opposed the idea back in September.

But the eventual answer makes all the difference in terms of who really would be targeted and punished, and how truly useful the ordinance would be.

Suburban prosecutors for years have used the state’s forfeiture law, to relatively little financial reward.

Attorney John Mauck, who successfully defended four men against a Kane County asset forfeiture lawsuit filed under the Illinois Street Gang Prevention Act last year, said most of the hundreds of suits in suburban courts have failed to collect any real money.

Mauck said the lawsuits mostly wind up targeting alleged gang members who struggle to even afford an attorney (civil cases don’t have public defenders).

Alderpersons could wind up delaying the ordinance’s vote. That would be good, if all that was needed is more time to improve it.

Instead, the Council should nix the ordinance entirely, and Lightfoot’s administration should turn the focus to crime reduction measures with a proven track record.

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