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Lightfoot’s anti-gang ordinance put on slower track

The ordinance was assigned to the Rules Committee — usually where legislation opposed by the mayor goes to die. But this time, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez used the maneuver against Lightfoot. At the very least, it adds an extra step to the legislative process.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presiding at a meeting of the Chicago City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot presiding at Tuesday’s meeting of the Chicago City Council.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to use the threat of civil lawsuits to target Chicago’s most violent street gangs was shunted off to the City Council’s Rules Committee on Tuesday, slowing down the mayor’s latest plan to stop the bloodbath on city streets.

That committee is the traditional burial ground of legislation opposed by the mayor. Mayoral allies typically execute the maneuver by calling two committees at the same time when legislation is introduced.

But this time, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) used the tactic against Lightfoot. At the very least, it now adds an extra step to the legislative process, forcing the Rules Committee to hold a preliminary meeting to refer it to, presumably, the Committee on Public Safety.

Rodriguez Sanchez explained her reasoning to the Sun-Times.

“It’s bad policy. And plenty of civil rights groups are opposed to it,” the alderman wrote in a text message.

Former mayoral challenger Ja’Mal Green couldn’t agree more.

Green argued young people who are not gang members but simply associate with gang members would be unfairly targeted because their names are included in the Chicago Police Department’s deeply-flawed gang database.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Lightfoot introduced a separate ordinance empowering the Police Board she once ran to hear appeals by Chicagoans who feel their names have been incorrectly included in the gang database.

“You’ll lodge claims against people who are affiliated with folks who may be in a gang. And then, everybody has a lawsuit. So you’re putting claims against innocent people,” Green said.

“If we’re able to just sue folks and lodge claims against a lot of innocent folks, then these folks in these communities should be able to file a class action lawsuit for their quality of life in their neighborhoods.”

Chicago doesn’t have a gang problem. It has a “quality of life problem that translates to folks creating gangs,” Green said.

“Because of the conditions of these neighborhoods that the city is not investing in to change, it’s creating the underground economy and creating young people to be less hopeful and turn to crime. We must invest in young people so that they will not grow up and turn to crime,” he said.

Undaunted by the parliamentary maneuver, Lightfoot said aldermen who dare oppose her plan to target gangs leaders and “go after their blood money” will have to “answer to their constituents for that.”

The mayor said she was “not targeting gangs on the corner,” but rather “gang leadership” who have been “recruiting and corrupting” a continuous pipeline of young people “by flaunting a lavish lifestyle of money, cars, jewelry and guns.”

“People are afraid. They’re afraid of gangs. We have to do everything we can to address those fears,” she said.

West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, added: “We bury dreams on a daily basis.”

Lightfoot had planned to fast-track the ordinance by introducing it directly to the Committee on Public Safety. But after scheduling that Monday meeting, Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) abruptly canceled it.

The so-called “Victims’ Justice Ordinance” would target gangs that engage in a “course or pattern of criminal activity” defined as “two or more gang related criminal offenses” in Chicago within five years of each other.

The mayor’s plan would empower judges or court officers to impose fines as high as $10,000 for each offense and seize “any property that is directly or indirectly used or intended for use in any manner to facilitate street gang related activity.”

That’s in addition to “compensatory damages for all losses, impairments or other harms caused by” Chicago street gangs.”

Using civil lawsuits as a weapon against street gangs is a tactic that has been tried in the suburbs for more than 20 years with mixed results.

John Mauck, an attorney who successfully defended four men against such a lawsuit in Kane County, has branded Lightfoot’s latest ploy “98 percent political and 2 percent reality.”

But Lightfoot argued Tuesday that Chicago is a “home-rule entity” with a responsibility to act to stop the bloodbath on city streets.

Although suburbs have tried suing gang members with mixed results, Lightfoot said she “spent a significant amount of time ... learning from the lessons of the past.”

The mayor said she her ordinance is correctly “targeting blood money that these gangs have accumulated by killing innocents in our city.”