ACLU of Illinois Testifies in Opposition to "Flawed" Gang Loitering Ordinance

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
February 2, 2000 12:00 am

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ACLU of Illinois
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CHICAGO, IL — In an effort to reenergize the city’s public debate about effective law enforcement strategies, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today appeared before the City Council Committee on Police and Fire to express opposition to renewed efforts to pass a gang loitering ordinance.

In testimony prepared for the Committee’s hearing on the ordinance — revised after an earlier version failed a Supreme Court challenge — a representative of the ACLU pointed to “problems and concerns” that have been left unanswered by the new draft ordinance.

“Today, the ACLU appears before the Council to oppose the resurrection of this failed ordinance,” said Harvey M. Grossman, Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois. “To be sure, the drafters of this proposal have been remarkably able in their effort to parrot back to the Supreme Court justices specific language that appeared in last summer’s decision. The simple inclusion of this language, however, does not mitigate against the law’s dilatory effect.”

Last year the ACLU prevailed in a challenge to the City’s original gang loitering measure, successfully arguing that the statute was too vague and gave police unbridled authority to determine who could and could not be on City streets. The first measure, adopted in 1992, was struck down by the Illinois Appellate Court, the Illinois Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States.

Among the continuing problems cited by the ACLU:

  • The ordinance remains an open invitation for the police to engage in the decades old strategy of “street sweeps.” 90,000 persons were detained under the old ordinance’s enforcement — an average of more than 80 per day.
  • The old ordinance did not prove an effective law enforcement tool for curtailing gang violence. The precipitous drop in gang violence in Chicago occurred only after the ordinance was no longer in force.
  • The continuing lack of any real notice to people on the streets is unconstitutional. The new measure, like the original, calls for dispersal notices to be give by police before arrests are made. The vast majority of persons arrested under the previous law reported that they were never given a notice to disperse; they were simply arrested.

The ACLU’s prepared testimony also noted that the City of Chicago has changed its position about the best way to address gang issues in the months since the Supreme Court argument on the first gang loitering measure. City lawyers long argued in state court — and to the Supreme Court of the United States — that for a law to be effective in addressing gang crime, it could not require “individualized determination” about the criminal acts of any person. The City further contended that any anti-gang measure had to be broad enough for the police to be able to disperse gang members without evidence of any criminal activity.

The new gang loitering measure being considered today calls for police to make these “individualized determinations” as to whether persons are engaged in “gang loitering” or “narcotics loitering.”

“The City simply cannot have it both ways,” said Grossman. “They cannot argue to the Supreme Court in good conscience that a statute requiring individualized determination cannot be effective as a law enforcement tool, and then assure this Council and its constituents that such an ordinance actually will be enforced in that manner and still be the effective crime fighting measure the City says it is.”

The ACLU also noted that reintroduction of the gang loitering measure had created acrimony in the youth community, and called on the City Council to heed the voices of these young people in considering whether or not to implement this measure.

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