Chicago leaders have no real plan to deal with youth violence downtown

Instead of doing their jobs, city leaders appear to be allowing legal, investigative and prevention tools to just rust away in a drawer.

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Hundreds of youths streamed through downtown streets, prompting a heavy police response over the weekend.

Hundreds of youths streamed through downtown streets, prompting a heavy police response over the weekend.

NBC 5 Chicago

The now-notorious violent youth riot in downtown Chicago last weekend got me thinking of a press conference way back in 2010.

Mayor Richard M. Daley voiced frustration about what he said were large groups of suburban kids causing trouble on Chicago’s lakefront, even though plenty of Chicago kids were also participating, including six teens who brutally attacked an 18-year-old suburban woman. Daley complained the youths would text each other to organize their mayhem.

Three years later, downtown’s problems with unexpected group violence hadn’t gotten any better. So then-Gov. Pat Quinn held a splashy press conference on Michigan Avenue to sign a bill, sponsored by then-state Sen. Kwame Raoul and then-state Rep. Christian Mitchell, that doubled prison sentences (to six years) for those who use social media to “incite organized mob violence.”

“We don’t want flash mobs harming anyone, anywhere, but especially where many people come from other states, other countries,” Quinn said. Their promised crackdown never materialized. However, that penalty enhancement is still in state law.

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Illinois has also had a statute on its books since 1969 known as the Parental Responsibility Law. Parents and guardians can be sued for “actual damages for the willful or malicious acts of such minor which cause injury to a person or property.” Damages are recoverable up to $20,000. The law has only rarely been used.

Ed Yohnka at the Illinois ACLU told me his group was “not aware of a specific constitutional deficiency” with the law and the courts “long have recognized that one can be held responsible for the actions of others based on specific legal relationships, and recognized the authority of state legislatures to make parents responsible for the torts of their minor children.”

Yohnka did say the law was “bad policy,” partly because impoverished parents would be hurt the most. “Many of these families are struggling to make ends meet in communities that lack services and resources that help support strong families.”

The state and the city also spend millions of dollars a year, and plan to spend much more, on violence prevention programs. In the past, violence interrupters have described being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of young people breaking the law during the flash mobs or trends or whatever you want to call them.

Last week, we barely heard from anyone in that sector about how they helped during the weekend violence or how they can help in the future if properly deployed.

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In 2019, WBEZ actually went out and talked to some of the kids who were causing some of the disruptions. The young people understandably complained that parks and recreational facilities in their own neighborhoods on the South and West sides were decrepit.

“There is usually vandalism over the swings, over the slides, there is usually broken material … there is trash, and there is a lot of people soliciting,” according to Tyrianna Rodgers, who was on a “girls-only afternoon” in downtown at the time. “It just doesn’t look like the place where you would send your kids and say OK, ‘You could chill here.’” Four years later, many of those facilities are still a disgrace.

The public radio station also reported at the time that Chicago police were bragging about their ability to monitor the online organization of what are now called “trends,” which the station defined as “large teen-led gatherings that are particularly popular among Black teens.”

Yet, CBS 2 reported last week that the Chicago Police Department had no clue how the mob violence was organized. And credible reports have emerged since then about police ignoring calls for assistance.

There are really two points here. The first is all those loud folks pretending the violence is somehow a new and mysterious thing and a fresh test for a mayor-elect who hasn’t even been sworn in yet really ought to take a breath.

The second is that law enforcement and local leaders have been given plenty of legal, investigatory and prevention tools (and there are more than just those listed above) to address these issues, but those leaders appear to be allowing those tools to just rust away in a drawer somewhere.

Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) had it absolutely right when he complained that nobody has a plan to deal with the violence and nobody has had a real plan since he was a teen.

“That has to change!” Buckner rightly roared on social media.

Yes, it does. And it starts with the people in authority doing their actual jobs.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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