DOWNTOWN — Young activists who organize to keep their neighborhoods safe are pushing back against a new citywide curfew and rules meant to prevent violence Downtown, saying the policies unfairly target Black and Brown youth.
Lightfoot announced an executive order banning unaccompanied minors from Millennium Park on weekend nights and moved the city’s curfew to 10 p.m. on weekends after 16-year-old Seandell Holliday was killed near The Bean Saturday in a shooting that saw dozens of others arrested after hundreds of Black youth gathered Downtown. The Loop has struggled with other recent violence, including another shooting near The Bean on May 10.
But a clause in the curfew crackdown would exempt teens coming home from music fests like Lollapalooza, which attracts wealthy white teens from the suburbs and tourists. And young Chicagoans say discouraging teens from the places they feel safe Downtown will only make violence in their neighborhoods worse.
GoodKid MadCity organizer Miracle Boyd called the curfew loophole for concerts and ballgames unfair to the Chicago teens who also want to experience Downtown but can’t afford to buy tickets to pricey events. The city will require youth to show “documentary evidence” like a ticket or wristband to prove they attended the event.
“Don’t discriminate, Ms. Lightfoot,” 20-year-old Boyd said.
Lightfoot’s Millennium Park ban outlaws minors who are not accompanied by an adult from going to the park after 6 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. In announcing the policy, Lightfoot said it would be “strictly enforced and violations will be dealt with swiftly.” It will go into effect Thursday.
Lightfoot plans to introduce a proposed ordinance to amend the city’s curfew Friday.
“We will continue to encourage parents and guardians to further ensure their children are conducting themselves appropriately and safety at all times,” she said.
Despite repeated questions, Lightfoot has declined to say what exact consequences teens will face if they defy the ban or curfew. In a press conference Monday, she said city officials would “exhaust all other options before they take law enforcement actions.”
In an executive order filed Tuesday, city officials said police will use “de-escalation and dispersal tools” and “only after those efforts fail” will officers arrest people.
Lightfoot’s new rules for teens worry people like Ashley Galven Ramos, a 23-year-old intake specialist with Logan Square Neighborhood Association who happened to be Downtown during the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting as cops ordered Black youth to leave the area or “get arrested,” Ramos said.
She fears the curfew will be “just be another way for the city to police Black and Brown bodies.”
Catlyn Savado, 14-year-old youth activist, agreed:
Research shows curfews don’t have an impact on crime. A 2016 study by the Campbell Collaboration argued curfews are “unlikely to be a meaningful solution to juvenile crime.” When the curfew was pushed up an hour to 11 p.m. in Washington, D.C., gun violence increased, according to a 2015 study.
Instead of keeping youth out, Boyd said she wishes the city was hosting more free youth activities Downtown so young people feel welcome.
“A lot of youth in the city of Chicago feel as though Downtown is the safe zone because violence happens in our community every day,” said Boyd, whose teeth were knocked out by a Chicago police officer after a protest at Grant Park in July 2020 when she was 18.
Lightfoot said the curfew wasn’t the city’s only layer to addressing youth Downtown. It also includes education on “hundreds” of other youth friendly activities, she said.
“I’m hearing from many parents who had no idea that there was a curfew even though there’s been [one in] existence since 1992. So I think most of the kids who have gathered in these spaces are law abiding, they’re looking for fun. They’re looking for re-engagement with other young people,” Lightfoot said.
Some worry the park rules will have the opposite effect: It’ll make youth want to be Downtown even more, setting a stage for unrest.
“If you just tell the person not to do that … it makes the kid want to do it even more,” said Daniel Davenport, a co-founder of GoodKids MadCity.
In April, the city hosted six town halls where city officials shared plans to prevent violence and answer attendees’ questions about public safety. Boyd attended a town hall Downtown specifically for youth to draw attention to the GoodKid MadCity’s proposed “Peace Book” ordinance, a plan that would reallocate 2 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget into community-led violence prevention programs and youth support.
In a moment captured on video, Boyd was able to talk to Lightfoot there, asking her for a meeting to consider their plan. No meeting has been set so far, Boyd said.
Neighboring Alderman Says Curfew Is Not The Answer
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward is north of Millennium Park, called Lightfoot’s executive order “poorly thought out” and said it would take away significant resources from the police department to “guard a perimeter.”
“We don’t have those resources to spare right now,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins would like the police department to make greater use of its video surveillance capability to investigate crimes and identify suspects, he said.
“There’s a big difference between violating a curfew and punching a passerby, grabbing a purse or cell phone from a tourist,” Hopkins said. “They’re not equivalent behaviors and they shouldn’t be treated the same.”
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose ward includes Millennium Park, and Ald. Sophia King (3rd) and Ald. Pat Dowell (4th), did not respond to requests for comment.
After Lightfoot’s curfew announcement, North Side Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) took to Twitter to say the curfew won’t stop crime or address the root of the issue facing Chicago’s youth. As a teen, there were “plenty of nights” he would “squad up” and head to Navy Pier or Grant Park with his friends.
“I recall getting kicked out regularly and treated like I was worthless, none of that helped me grow,” he wrote.
“Banning kids from downtown? Where do you think they end up going to? Home?” Vasquez asked. “No, if anything they get made to feel like they aren’t a part of our larger community, and that is what leads them to lifestyles and a school to prison pipeline. This measure doesn’t solve the problem — it exacerbates it. It fractures community rather than heals it.”
The ACLU of Illinois is also challenging Lightfoot’s plan, calling for the legal justification in a letter to the mayor’s office Tuesday. The letter notes concerns about racial bias in addressing youth Downtown, citing three in four curfew arrests were Black Chicagoans during the George Floyd protests of 2020.
“It could turn into an overboard policy that encourages unconstitutional stops and searches of young people and results in racially-biased policing,” said Alexandra Block, senior supervising attorney with the ACLU of Illinois.
Boyd said she hopes Lightfoot will meet with youth organizers and reconsider the curfew and park rules.
“I definitely hope Lori Lightfoot is still down to meet with [GoodKids MadCity], there’s a lot of work in efforts to be done to protect our youth,” Boyd said. “I hope we can partner with them, but it definitely shouldn’t involve over-policing and hyper-surveillance of our young people because we’ve already seen what that has gotten us.”
Tiffany Walden, cofounder of The TRiiBE, a newsroom covering the Black experience in Chicago, shared her experience growing up as a Chicago teen looking for a safe place to hang out in a Tuesday newsletter.
“Kids want places, like skating rinks, movie theaters, dance halls and parks, to hang out where they can be free from their parents, if even for a little while,” Walden wrote. “When we don’t have those things, we, too, have to find joy and get by the best we can.
“The only true solution is to talk to youth and get a better understanding of what they need to feel seen, heard and cared for as Black residents of Chicago.”
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