CHICAGO — Chicago Police are setting up police checkpoints across the city to remind people the statewide stay at home order is still in effect because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Officers will be stationed at checkpoints in each of the city’s 22 police districts to stop drivers and hand out flyers reminding people not to make unnecessary trips outside their home, according to the Chicago Tribune. But community and civil rights groups say the increased contact with police could needlessly spread COVID-19 and are calling on the mayor to shut the checkpoints down.
The citywide checkpoints come weeks after Chicago Police set up similar checkpoints on four West Side blocks, where officers asked people for IDs. Only people who lived on the blocks there were allowed to enter.
At the time, former Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police would not be instituting citywide checkpoints, arguing the four West Side blocks they targeted were crime hotspots where large crowds were loitering despite the social distancing order.
“It’s patently false,” Guglielmi said in early April about allegations that Chicago Police was gearing up for citywide checkpoints. “…There’s no other district in Chicago that is seeing the level of congregation as the 11th District.”
Guglielmi also insisted the initial West Side checkpoints had nothing to do with increasing the police presence in areas struggling with crime, but were instead focused on dispersing crowds without issuing citations or arrests.
“We’re not going in there with the purposes of a police function. We’re going in there with the purposes of a public health function,” he said.
But in a statement on the expanded checkpoints, Police Sgt. Rocco Alioto said the new checkpoints will inform the public about the stay at home while “providing a visible police presence.”
The new checkpoints are categorically different from the previous ones on the West Side, as they will not be closing streets or checking identification, police said. CPD spokesperson Police. Lt. Cindy Guerra, a police spokesperson, likened the checkpoints to the seatbelt checks that officers conduct regularly.
Civil rights groups say the checkpoints will put Black and Brown people at risk for increased exposure to coronavirus through increased contact with police. So far, 70 percent of COVID-19 fatalities have been Black.
“During this pandemic, law enforcement should be looking to reduce contacts, not increase them. Enforcing two dozen checkpoints each day across the City creates a risk of further spreading the coronavirus to members of the CPD and to residents,” said Ed Yohnka, American Civil Liberties Union spokesman.
Yohnka also expressed concern that the public health emergency will be used to justify more policing in Black and Brown neighborhoods, the same communities that are already suffering the worst of the pandemic.
“It is critical that public health concerns should not be used as a cover for race-based enforcement schemes or other heavy-handed police tactics,” Yohnka said.
The Fraternal Order of Police echoed the complaints about the checkpoints increasing unnecessary exposure to civilians and officers.
“We need to be careful not to expose officers needlessly to the covid-19 virus. This is not the time for setting up roadside safety checks,” F.O.P. President Kevin Graham said.
Worried the checkpoints will lead to the harassment of Black and Brown residents, Little Village community group Mi Villita is calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to intervene and end the checkpoints, too.
The groups said the checkpoints will “increase the emotional terror felt by Chicago’s thousands of undocumented immigrants,” even though Chicago is a sanctuary city.
A 2017 U.S. Department of Justice investigation found unnecessary use of force by Chicago Police was concentrated in Black and Latino neighborhoods, resulting in a court-ordered consent decree.
The mayor’s office expressed its support for the new CPD policy despite the public backlash.
“We take these community concerns extremely seriously. The City and CPD are committed to working closely with our community partners on ways we can further engage our residents with the latest public health guidance while we work to keep our neighborhoods safe,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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