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Lightfoot’s Plan To Sue Gang Leaders For Assets To Prevent Violence Faces Tough Vote Wednesday

The proposal is one of several on City Council's agenda Wednesday that will put policing and police reform front and center.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot looks on during a City Council meeting on July 21, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO – Opponents of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to go after gang leaders’ money and assets say “everything is on the table” to block the measure from being approved by City Council on Wednesday. 

Lightfoot first floated the ordinance in September, saying it was a necessary “tool” to dismantle “gangs that are wreaking havoc, and in particular, take away the profit motive from them by seizing assets that they have been able to purchase because of their violent activity in our neighborhoods.”

But after facing an avalanche of pushback from progressive alderpeople, community groups and civil rights attorneys, the ordinance has been amended to more narrowly target gang leaders rather than lower-level gang members, and it would give family members an avenue to keep a car they rely on.

Those amendments were enough to advance the ordinance out of the Public Safety Committee last week in a 10-4 vote. But the measure faces a tougher vote in the full City Council.

“I think its fair to say that we’re going to do everything that we can to convince our colleagues that this is not the right move, to convince the administration that this is not the right move. So I think everything is on the table,” Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said at a news conference Tuesday.

Hadden and other alderpeople did not rule out using a parliamentary maneuver to block a vote on the measure. Known as “defer and publish,” the tactic can be deployed by any two alderpeople and would stall the measure until the next City Council meeting. 

If the ordinance is delayed Wednesday, its opponents run the risk of allowing Lightfoot time to amend the measure again to secure its passage in City Council.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), one of Lightfoot’s handpicked committee chairs but who is against the proposal, said it would be better if it only targeted people who have been convicted of a crime and if there was “some type of nexus between the crime and the assets that you will forfeit.”

Lightfoot defended the proposal Tuesday, saying it will take away the “profit motive” of gang leaders and that she’ll leave it up to a judge to decide if the city brings forth a compelling case against defendants.

“What I’d like the critics to answer is to answer the call, and the cry, and the plea of people in neighborhoods that are under siege by gang violence. Tell them why we should not take away the profit motive of gangs who are killing our children,” Lightfoot said.

The ordinance is one of several items on Wednesday’s agenda that will put policing and police reform front and center.

COPA Chief

Lightfoot’s nominee to lead the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — acting head Andrea Kersten — cleared the Public Safety Committee this month in a narrow 9-6 vote. Opponents could try to block the City Council vote.

Kersten’s nomination was opposed b 20 alderpeople as soon as it was announced last year. They were upset she signed off on a report that recommended discipline for slain officer Ella French for her role in the wrongful raid of Anjanette Young’s home.

Although the report was finalized months before French was shot and killed in the line of duty, it was only made public in November.

Kersten has repeatedly apologized for not doing more to communicate with French’s family ahead of the report, but she argued the agency was bound by law to release its findings without redactions. 

Amid the confirmation battle, Kersten signed onto a proposed ordinance that would give COPA the ability to redact the names of fallen officers from its publicly released summary reports. The measure was held in committee as some aldermen feared it would reduce Chicagoans’ trust in police reform efforts.

Kersten’s nomination is most strongly opposed by alderpeople who represent areas of the city where the largest numbers of police officers reside, including on the city’s Far Northwest Side. Although it appears Lightfoot has the votes to get Kersten appointed, the nomination could be stalled.

If votes on Kersten’s nomination or the gang asset forfeiture ordinance are blocked, it could prompt Lightfoot to work with City Council allies to adjourn Wednesday’s meeting early and schedule one for Friday, as happened after two alderpeople stalled Celia Meza’s nomination for corporation counsel.

Settlements

City Council will also vote on whether to spend $4.3 million to settle police misconduct lawsuits, including $1.67 million for Mia Wright, who was left blind in one eye after police officers dragged her from her car in the Brickyard Mall parking lot, 2600 N. Narragansett Ave.

The incident occurred in June 2020, the same day peaceful protests over the murder of George Floyd gave way to looting.

Wright had gone to Brickyard Mall to shop for a birthday celebration. She saw the mall was closed and started to head home, but at least 10 officers swarmed her car, screaming profanities and beating their batons on the windows.

Several bystanders filmed the encounter, which showed officers busting the windows of the car and dragging out Wright by her hair. Officers also pulled a male family friend from the car. Wright said she struggled to breathe and feared for her life while an officer forced her to the ground and knelt on the back of her neck.

COPA found no justification for Wright to be targeted by the police and recommended discipline for eight officers up to separation from the department, a city attorney told the Finance committee.

The committee voted to approve the settlement in a 17-7 vote last week.

The committee unanimously approved a $1.2 million settlement for Jomner Orozco Carreto and Carlos Ramírez, who sued the city after off-duty officer Kevin Bunge shot at them in December 2020.

The committee also unanimously signed off on a $1.4 million settlement to the mother of 13-month-old Dillon Harris who was in a stroller when he was struck and killed by a car fleeing from police in 2015 in Woodlawn. Antoine Watkins, then 21, was accused of being the driver and was fleeing a shooting, police have said.

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