City Council delays action on Lightfoot’s curfew crackdown

Two mayoral allies used a parliamentary maneuver to put off approval of an ordinance that would alter Chicago’s seldom-enforced curfew law, though it is expected to pass at Wednesday’s Council meeting.

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Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

The Chicago City Council on Monday delayed action on a stricter curfew sought by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s executive order turning back the clock and age of Chicago’s seldom-enforced curfew law — from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m., for minors younger than 18 instead of under 17 — will not have the weight of law behind it. At least not for a few days.

Two mayoral allies — Emma Mitts (37th) and Nick Sposato (38th) — made certain of it on Monday by using a parliamentary maneuver to postpone a final vote on the mayor’s curfew ordinance after a barrage of criticism from all sides. That sets the stage for a final vote on Wednesday.

Aldermanic allies and enemies alike have condemned the crackdown as a toothless and desperate response to a deadly outbreak of youth violence in the downtown area that prompted a mass shooting outside a McDonald’s at Chicago Avenue and State Street and the fatal shooting of a teenager at Millennium Park.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), a mayoral challenger and Lightfoot’s most outspoken critic on the council, has further warned that demoralized, inundated and overworked Chicago police officers will, once again, be yanked out of neighborhood CPD districts “so we can have the curfew patrol downtown.”

Some alderpersons have noted the paltry — and declining — number of curfew citations police issue even under Chicago’s existing law.

From 2,453 citations in 2018, the tally dropped to 1,804 in 2019, then 635 in 2020 and just 364 citations last year. So far this year, 98 citations have been issued.

“These curfews don’t work to begin with,” Ald. Edward Burke (14th) said during Friday’s committee hearing. “This is ridiculous. It’s preposterous.”

Lightfoot told reporters last week the precipitous drop in arrests is easily explained. The goal, she said, is not “mass arrests of young people” but to “make sure that our young people know what the rules are and that they … follow those rules without having any kind of other incident.”

“Officers go up to the children. They tell them that there’s a curfew. They ask them where they’re going and help them get on their way — direct them to a train or bus,” the mayor said then.

“If the child, for whatever reason, isn’t respectful of the curfew and refuses to disperse, then the office has the right to take the action to arrest” and detain the minor until a parent or guardian picks them up.

The mayor’s explanation didn’t satisfy former-rapper-turned-Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th).

He recalled being “kicked out” of Grant Park and Navy Pier “because I was a person of color out there literally just playing music with friends” while “I would watch other white kids completely get passed over. They wouldn’t even talk to them.”

Vasquez has warned the proposed exception for youth attending “ticketed or sponsored events” who have a wristband or ticket stub as proof would lead to the same “racial profiling.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks with City Council members (from left) Michelle A. Harris (in pink), Jason C. Ervin and George A. Cardenas..

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (center) speaks with (from left) Ald. Michelle A. Harris (8th), Ald. Jason C. Ervin (28th), and Ald. George A. Cardenas (12th) during Monday’s City Council meeting at City Hall.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, has similar concerns. On Monday, Yohnka pointed to the week-long curfew crackdown in the wake of protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. There also was rampant looting around the city.

“There were 900 arrests. Three-quarters of those arrests were African Americans. That tells us that, when you have a broad law that allows for people to be stopped, questioned and potentially detained, it can be enforced in a discriminatory way,” Yohnka said.

If the council approves the changes, the ACLU still could try to delay or overturn them in court.

“Everything’s on the table. We’re certainly not taking away the option of suing,” Yohnka said.

Last week, the ACLU sent the mayor a “long list of questions” about the curfew crackdown and the companion weekend ban on “unaccompanied” minors at Millennium Park.

Lightfoot’s office hasn’t provided any answers, Yohnka said Monday.

“If nothing changes, we will consider suing,” he said.

“People gather in large crowds all over the city all the time. There are 40,000 people [for Cubs games] at Wrigley Field. There are thousands of people at the annual Gay Pride Parade. What is this sudden emergency that police can’t do crowd control?”

Also Monday, the council:

• Gave Lightfoot the go-ahead to resume installation of water meters to 180,000 households that don’t have them, with significant safeguards to prevent elevated lead levels in Chicago’s drinking water.

• Agreed to create an “outdoor entertainment venue liquor license” in time for live music this summer at the Morton Salt Shed, 1357 N. Elston Ave. The new license would pave the way for more of the same at Lincoln Yards and the River West site of a proposed Chicago casino. However, also on Monday, Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) introduced an ordinance to “prohibit outdoor concert venues within planned developments that permit residential uses.”

• Authorized $16.14 million in settlements tied to allegations of police wrongdoing. The larger of the two — for $14.25 million — goes to Daniel Taylor, who spent 20 years in prison for a double-murder he could not have committed. When they occurred, he was in police custody on an unrelated disorderly conduct charge.

The other settlement — for $1.9 million — is for surviving relatives of Jose Nieves, who was murdered by an off-duty Chicago Police officer, Lowell Houser, in 2017. Houser was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2020 after being convicted of second-degree murder for that shooting.

• Signed off on new concession agreements at O’Hare International Airport, bringing 10,000 square feet of new shopping choices to Terminals 3 and 5 and paving the way for “gate-side ordering and delivery,” courtesy of Grab Chicago.

Ald. Thomas Tunney (44th), right, speaks with fellow alderpersons during a City Council meeting at City Hall on Monday, May 23, 2022.

Ald. Thomas Tunney (44th), right, speaks with fellow City Council members during Monday’s council meeting at City Hall. Tunney is chairman of the special council committee on a Chicago casino, which met Monday during a recess in the main council meeting.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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