Lightfoot sets earlier citywide weekend curfew

The mayor isn’t interested “in rounding up young people and throwing them in the back of a wagon,” but in working with parents and guardians to enforce “community norms.” Gov. J.B. Pritzker, meanwhile, offered the assistance of the Illinois State Police, if needed.

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Chicago skyline as seen from Soldier Field.

An earlier citywide curfew was announced Monday by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday rolled back Chicago’s weekend curfew — from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. — in a desperate attempt to stop an outbreak of youth violence downtown that culminated in the fatal weekend shooting of a 16-year-old boy in Millennium Park.

Lightfoot said it is with an “incredibly heavy heart” she’s signing an executive order imposing the hour-earlier curfew in conjunction with the weekend ban on “unaccompanied minors” at Millennium Park that will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday and continue “for the foreseeable future.”

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But the mayor said she has “no choice” but to impose those drastic measures after a frenetic stretch from Saturday evening into early Sunday.

It started with crowds of young people congregating in the Loop — and ended with the 16-year-old fatally shot near “The Bean,” two men wounded in a separate attack nearby and 26 juveniles and five adults arrested.

“It gives me no pleasure to impose these rules and restrictions. But having exhausted every other opportunity, every other tool and remedy, we’ve got to go to this next step to make sure that our jewel of Millennium Park is available and open to everyone,” she said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaking at a City Hall news conference Monday, announced an earlier weekend curfew citywide. Parenting programs like ParentAble would be a more effective way to help youth.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaking at a City Hall news conference Monday, announced an earlier weekend curfew citywide, and defended her ban on unaccompanied minors in Millennium Park after 6 p.m., Thursdays through Mondays.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union objected to the Millennium Park ban.

“I have a lot of respect for the ACLU,” Lightfoot said Monday. “But here on planet Earth, in reality, we have a crisis in our city and we have to take action. Doing nothing is simply not an option. … The modest, very surgically, narrowly-defined actions that we’re taking make sense in this moment.”

Lightfoot reminded “parents and caring adults” that Chicago already has a curfew for minors — and has since 1992. It’s seldom enforced, but it will be, if absolutely necessary. But first, the mayor said, the city will try to “educate” young people and their parents and guardians into compliance.

The education will include signs throughout Millennium Park, letters to the parents of Chicago Public Schools students and a “full-throated” campaign to promote constructive alternatives for young people throughout the city.

Under repeated questioning about consequences for young people ignoring the new rules, Lightfoot stressed police will be instructed to “exhaust all other options” before taking “law enforcement action.”

Her interest is “not in rounding up young people and throwing them in the back of a wagon.” It’s in working with parents and guardians to enforce “community norms.” 

She then responded to her own rhetorical question.

“Why do you want to go to arresting children? No, we don’t want to arrest children. If we have to because they’re breaking the law, we will,” the mayor said.

“But what we’ve seen in other areas of the city when issues have arisen is, our officers talk to the young people, educate them about what the rules are and, in most instances, the young people disperse without any incident. That’s what we’re hoping will happen.”

The ACLU questioned the legality and wisdom of Lightfoot’s weekend ban on unaccompanied minors at Millennium Park amid fear it will result in “unnecessary stops and arrests” that “further strain relations” between CPD officers and “young people of color.”

On Monday, ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka raised similar questions about the citywide weekend curfew rollback.

“The Chicago City Council has passed a curfew that’s set for 11 p.m. We’re confused as to what authority she has to roll it back to 10 [p.m.],” Yohnka said.

“We have long opposed curfews. Frankly, we have a mechanism in society for defining when children and young people should be home and when they can be out. We call those, ‘parents.’ We don’t really need the government to be telling people when they should be home. But, even at that, it would be hard to go to dinner and a movie and be home by 10 p.m.”

The ACLU plans to send Lightfoot a letter asking how the mayor justifies the youth restrictions, what specific legal authority she has to impose them and how they’ll be enforced. Next, they’ll decide their next step, and whether to pursue a legal challenge, Yohnka said.

South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), mulling a race for mayor, branded the curfew rollback as “unilateral and discriminatory.”

“Not only is the proposal lacking in specifics or enforcement mechanisms for it to be successful, I worry about the psychological impact of telling our children, ‘You don’t belong here,’” Sawyer was quoted as saying in a statement.

“For decades, our Black and Brown children have been made to feel they don’t belong in certain parts of our great city, and this is yet another example.”

The one point of agreement between the mayor and the ACLU is on the need for parental responsibility.

Lightfoot called it “extremely distressing” that pre-teens, as young as 10, come downtown, alone, at night. That’s “not smart and not safe” and parents need to “step up” and prevent it.

“Parents, guardians, you cannot just send your children out into the streets — no matter the destination — without knowing where they are going, who they are with and making sure that there is a responsible adult with them to make sure that they safely conduct themselves in public and that they safely return home,” the mayor said.

“That’s simply a basic norm. And I’m simply saying parents, guardians and caring adults, you must step up in this moment.”

Without citing specific evidence, Lightfoot blamed a “ghost account with a phony email” and phone number for inciting the weekend violence and said the city is working to identify those responsible.

At an unrelated press conference in Chicago on Monday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said after the weekend violence downtown, he reached out to Lightfoot’s office to offer state resources, including the assistance of the Illinois State Police.

“That’s always available but we wanted to double down and make sure that they know in any moment, particularly if there’s a crisis that’s happening in any given hour, we have State Police on the front lines available to assist,” Pritzker said. “And of course, you know, it’s up to each city. They are on the frontlines to do what is necessary to keep order.”

He called the killing of young people “horrific” for everybody in Chicago and the entire state of Illinois.

“Local police have to get their arms around this,” Pritzker said. “We are providing at the state level significant support in other ways, including State Police. But I also want to say, in violence prevention programs, we put tens of millions of dollars into youth employment programs and making sure that we’re providing services for youth for the entire summer, but also all year long.”

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles

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