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Blacks make up 75% of those charged with violating city curfew, data shows

“It’s infuriating and tragic,” said Colleen Connell of the Illinois ACLU. “The curfew basically gave the Chicago Police Department carte blanche to continue over-policing people of color.”

Chicago police officers walk by a boarded up business with “Black Lives Matter” painted on it while following a protest Saturday, June 6, 2020.
Chicago police officers walk by a boarded up business with “Black Lives Matter” painted on it while following a protest Saturday, June 6, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

As protesters took to the city’s streets to highlight racial discrepancies in police enforcement, city data shows Chicago Police charged significantly more African Americans with violating a curfew imposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Of more than 400 people charged, a Chicago Sun-Times review of the violations found, 75% were African American.

The curfew was put into effect at 9 p.m. May 30, which continued each night until June 7, after a massive downtown protest of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer devolved into looting and vandalism and sparked days of unrest in the city.

“It’s infuriating and tragic,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the Illinois ACLU, particularly considering “the catalyst for these protests.”

“The curfew basically gave the Chicago Police Department carte blanche to continue over-policing people of color,” Connell said. “African Americans in the city of Chicago have long been subject to discriminatory treatment at the hands of Chicago police. ... This is just the most recent example.”

A protester sprays paints on a Chicago Police Department SUV on Kinzie near State in Chicago, Saturday, May 30, 2020 as thousands of protesters in Chicago joined national outrage over the death of George Floyd.
A protester sprays paints on a Chicago Police Department SUV on Kinzie near State in Chicago, Saturday, May 30, 2020, as thousands of protesters in Chicago joined national outrage over the death of George Floyd.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times

The Sun-Times reviewed police records, obtained through a public records request, covering the first five days the curfew was in effect, and found 329 of the 440 people arrested were identified as African American. Police did not release records from June 5-7.

In a statement, CPD spokesman Thomas Ahern said the department’s enforcement of the curfew “was universal, regardless of race or neighborhood.”

“Each of our 22 police districts worked with all residents from all neighborhoods during this time period to ensure full compliance of the citywide curfew, and any enforcement was undertaken for the protection and safety of all residents,” according to Ahern.

In the week following the May 30 protest, police records show enforcement of the curfew largely moved away from mass arrests in areas where protests were held to almost entirely focus on the city’s West and South sides, with black Chicagoans almost exclusively charged with curfew violations.

Mass arrests target protesters

Though it was announced by Lightfoot on social media just 20 minutes before it took effect May 30, 49 people were arrested and later charged with violating during the first five minutes the curfew was in place, police records show. Of those arrests, 45% were black, 37% were white, and 8% were identified as Hispanic by police.

Trenten Jackson, 25, was arrested at 9 p.m., according to police records.

Jackson, of south suburban Worth, says he was filming on Facebook Live when he was grabbed by a police officer and had his hands bound with zip ties.

Trenton Jackson
Trenten Jackson
Provided

“It was mayhem. I’ve never seen anything like it before. There was smoke everywhere, fires, sirens going off,” Jackson said.

Police never announced a curfew, told him to go home or gave him the opportunity to leave, he said.

“I was down there by myself, so I probably would have listened, just to not have to go through all this,” he said.

Another protester, 30-year-old Brittany Sowacke, says she was in police custody at about 6 p.m. - three hours before a police report shows her being arrested at 9:01 p.m.

Sowacke was grabbed by a police officer as she stood at the front of a mass of protesters on the Wabash Street Bridge over the Chicago River, she said. Her hands were bound by a zip tie, and she was placed with a group of about 60 others near Trump Tower. She was still sitting on the ground waiting to be taken to a police station when some members of the group got an alert on their phones about a curfew taking effect.

“[Police] never interviewed us, they never read us our rights or told us what we were being charged with,” Sowacke said.

Brittany Sowacke
Brittany Sowacke
Provided

She was released the following morning from the Town Hall District station at Belmont and Western and told she would receive information about the charge and her court date in the mail.

In records released by police, 66% of people charged with a violation were from Chicago and 94% were from Illinois. All were charged with a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, which carries a fine of up to $500.

Enforcement moves to West, South sides

In the days after the protest, city records show enforcement of the curfew moved almost entirely to the West and South sides of the city.

From June 1-4, 93% of people charged with curfew violations were black, city records show.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot looks on as Chicago Police Supt. David Brown speaks during a press conference about a group of officers who were “lounging” in U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s campaign office while looters hit nearby stores, Thursday, June 11, 2020.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot looks on as Chicago Police Supt. David Brown speaks during a recent press conference.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

After the May 30 protest, the top three police districts to make arrests for curfew violations were the Harrison District (Humboldt Park/East Garfield Park), Grand Central District (Belmont Cragin/Hermosa) and Gresham District (Auburn Gresham/Chatham).

As with stop-and-frisk policies, the ACLU was concerned the curfew would be similarly abused by police, including in cases when officers lacked evidence to charge a more serious offense.

A 46-year-old Grand Crossing woman charged June 2 believes she falls into that category.

The woman, who asked that her name not be used, said she was returning home after picking up her cousin from a date.

On their route, they saw a group of people she said had broken into a Walgreens and were carrying items out and leaving them outside. The woman and her cousin grabbed a few of the items — “Dog food and soles for your shoes,” she said — but did not go inside the store, when police arrived and took them into custody.

Police told her Walgreens declined to prosecute, and they released her the following morning — but with a disorderly conduct charge for violating curfew.

‘I was really worried they were just gonna shoot’

When Kalynn Johnson saw blue lights behind the car he was riding in with three friends, he thought the police cruiser would pass them. They were driving in Lincoln Park because the city blocked highway exits and raised the bridges, leading them to try to get to the city’s downtown from the north.

They had only been in Chicago for 30 minutes, having driven from Ohio, where Johnson owns a bar outside Dayton, to help his family protect their store in Englewood after hearing reports of looting.

Moments later, the cruiser cut them off, and officers were holding Johnson and his friends at gunpoint.

“We just complied. I was really worried they were just gonna shoot,” he said. “That kind of thing sticks with you for life.”

Police suspected them of looting a Target and then hiding inside a 10-year-old boy’s bedroom in a Lake View home, he said.

Kalynn Johnson
Kalynn Johnson
Provided

After being at a police station, they were taken to the home to do a “stand up” outside, Johnson said, but a witness confirmed they were not the people sought by police. A 30-year-old parolee was later charged.

Instead of immediately releasing them, Johnson and two others were charged with curfew violations, police records show.

“I had no idea there was a curfew,” Johnson said.

“When they see me, they don’t see a college graduate ... or that I’m an entrepreneur. They just see a black man. You get numb to it to a certain degree.”

That was the feeling Maliyah Washington, 21, had when she was arrested almost 24 hours later while driving with two friends to look for food in Lake View. They had decided to leave Bronzeville for the night — too many police and all the places to buy food were closed due to looting — and considered stopping by a protest near Wrigley Field but couldn’t find parking.

When Washington pulled over in the 1600 block of West Irving Park Road to try and figure out where they were, they were swarmed by multiple police cruisers and screaming officers pointing guns at them.

“They accused us of trying to rob a bank and said they saw us bust out six car windows,” said Johnson, a student at Western Illinois University who had no arrest record.

Maliyah Washington
Maliyah Washington
Provided

She said while she was being taken into custody an officer briefly put a knee on her neck, and she thought of what happened to Floyd.

“My parents told me, ‘Don’t get aggressive,’” she said. “It just played over and over in my head: ‘Just calm down.’”

Washington said police also asked why they were on the North Side and made comments about their appearance.

During the arrest “[officers] kept saying we looked like boys, and when we said we were girls, they said we weren’t acting like it,” Washington said. Later, at the police station, “[Police] said the officers identified me as trans, and they asked if I was born a man or a woman.”

All three were released the next morning. The only charges: curfew violations.

Matthew Hendrickson is a Sun-Times staff reporter. Matt Kiefer is a former data editor at the Chicago Reporter and is now a JSK Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.