Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday introduced a new ordinance that would allow the city to target gang leaders by suing them and seizing their assets.
The proposal, known as Victims’ Justice Ordinance, would authorize the city to file a civil complaint against gang members who knowingly engaged in two or more gang-related criminal offenses within five years of each other. At least one of them must be a felony involving profit-driven gang violence.
Lightfoot, a Democrat, said her proposal “directly targets the gang leadership” and violent gunmen, adding that it does not go after the “guys on the corner” or small players.
For each offense, the court would able to impose fines up to $10,000, and to seize “any property that is directly or indirectly used or intended for use in any manner to facilitate street gang-related activity.” A minimum of 50 percent of any monetary fines recovered will be dedicated to supporting victims and witnesses of gang crime.
“To be very blunt and clear, we are going after their blood money,” Lightfoot said at Tuesday’s city council meeting, “money they have profited from the killing of innocents.”
Lightfoot had planned to fast-track the ordinance by introducing it directly to the council’s public safety committee, but scheduling was abruptly canceled by committee chairman Chris Taliaferro, a fellow Democrat who is a member of the Progressive Reform Caucus. The ordinance was then further delayed by another progressive council member, Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, who sent it to the Rules Committee—a move often used by aldermen to delay or kill proposals.
Rodriguez-Sanchez said of the mayor’s proposal, “We believe that the ordinance is a PR move so that the administration can say they are doing something about crime.”
Local media reported that progressives and ACLU of Illinois are opposed to the anti-gang measure citing risks of unfair targeting of some black and Latino residents if they are wrongly accused of being involved in gang activity and listed in the police’s gang database.
The mayor pushed back, saying cases would not rely on the database. She had also introduced a separate ordinance on Tuesday to address such concerns, allowing Chicagoans to lodge appeals with the police board if they feel they are incorrectly named in the database.
“Unfortunately, it also became clear that not all of the members of the city council understand how vitally important it is for us to protect victims of gang violence and they will have to answer to their constituents for that,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot’s proposed measure comes after Chicago concluded the summer with a soaring number of homicides. As of Aug. 31, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) reported 524 murders, with 78 in August alone, which followed a violent July that had seen 105 cases. At this pace, it is likely that the city will surpass last year’s total murder count of 769.
Among this summer’s homicide victims was Ella French, a 29-year-old CPD officer. A shooting the took place on Aug. 7 on the southwest side of Chicago during a traffic stop left French dead, and her partner, Officer Carlos Yanez Jr., critically wounded. Yanez lost one eye in the shooting and remains partially paralyzed.
Chicago’s homicide problem prompted Lightfoot to pledge last month that she would increase the CPD’s budget for fiscal year 2022, despite opposition from more progressive council members including Rodriguez-Sanchez, who advocated for a redirection of police resources toward community services such as housing and health care.
“It is my expectation that the police department budget will increase. No question,” the mayor said in August. “We have to make sure that we are continuing to provide resources to recruit the next generation of police officers, and to make sure that we’re doing that recruitment in a way that reflects the diversity of our city.”