ACLU Questions Chicago's Plan to Return to Failed "Anti-Gang Loitering" Strategy

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
January 11, 2000 12:00 am

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CHICAGO, IL — Pointing to a lack of statistical evidence in support of its action and the absence of other serious anti-gang efforts, the ACLU of Illinois today questioned the City of Chicago’s plan to reintroduce a so-called anti-gang loitering ordinance.

The first ordinance, adopted and implemented in 1992, was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in June, 1999.

In questioning the need to return to the discredited gang loitering strategy, the ACLU cited a recent study conducted by University of Chicago Law School Professor Stephen Schulhofer analyzing crime statistics in each of Chicago’s police districts over the past few years.

According to Professor Schulholfer’s thorough and comprehensive analysis, the City cannot claim that the anti-gang loitering ordinance was successful in reducing crime. Indeed, the University of Chicago study shows that the three year enforcement of the previous law “failed to produce detectable evidence of a beneficial effect on violence.”

“It is simply myth to claim that the original ordinance was effective in terms of crime control,” said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois, who successfully argued against the first ordinance before the Illinois Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States.

“The rate of reduction in violent crime for Chicago actually increased after the law’s enforcement had been suspended. Given this conclusive evidence, one wonders why city leaders are so anxious to implement again a law that resulted in more than 40,000 young people — most of them African-American and Latino — being harassed and arrested simply for being on the streets of their neighborhoods.”

“The City says the ordinance is absolutely necessary because local community groups want more done to abate gang activity and violence in their neighborhoods,” Grossman added. “The people of Chicago, however, should not be confronted with the false choice between tolerating violent crime and accepting the tired, failed strategy of street sweeps. To think that a city as great as this one would continue to link itself to failed policies of the past with no more creative thought does an injustice to the greatest strength of this city — our people.”

Ironically, the University of Chicago study demonstrates conclusively that some violent crime rates actually increased in the police districts where the previous gang loitering law was most vigorously enforced. As a startling example of this irony, murders citywide fell by 12 percent between 1992 to 1995 (the years during which the previous ordinance was being enforced) but increased by 3 percent in the police districts that were targeted for heavy enforcement under the loitering ordinance.

The ACLU also questioned today how the new ordinance would be different from the previous effort in implementation and enforcement. The first gang loitering ordinance resulted in thousands of persons being targeted for arrest and harassment while engaging in no illegal or illicit activity.

Indeed, as court documents in the Supreme Court case demonstrated, some individuals were arrested while walking to the store, others for simply visiting with friends on a street corner and, in one instance, for being out in one’s own front yard. These “street sweep” methods have been part of law enforcement in Chicago for nearly a half century, resulting in a massive number of arrests under “stop and frisk” policies or for “disorderly conduct.”

“The City knows that innocent persons will be swept up in the enforcement of this new ordinance, especially if it implement with the type of paramilitary sweeps that marked enforcement of the original gang loitering ordinance,” Grossman said. “The real result of this practice is the development of deep-seated alienation and distrust towards the police among the targets of such action, usually innocent young men of color. Such alienation fosters a sad ‘us against them’ mentality in large areas of our City that does a disservice to the entire community’s best interest.”

The ACLU has long supported and endorsed a variety of measures to address the problems of criminal activity by street gangs. The organization has noted that the city could utilize police resources to foster neighborhood initiatives, including “affirmative loitering,”‘ where citizens occupy street corners (with police support) in order to drive away street crime. The ACLU also has suggested using community policing organizations to sponsor more “Take Back the Streets” events which have the dual benefit of driving away criminals and uniting communities.

Finally, the ACLU has cited anti-gang programs in Boston and elsewhere that link targeted law enforcement efforts against street gangs with additional resources for community programs that give young people an alternative to participation in gangs and gang activity.

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