CITY HALL — More than 20 young people and organizers staged a die-in Monday night at City Hall in protest of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s controversial plans to expand the citywide curfew and limit young people’s access to Millennium Park.
The organizers said young people are being criminalized and should be included in decisions about the curfews. Lightfoot has proposed having the daily, citywide curfew for minors start at 10 p.m. instead of 11 and has banned people 20 and younger from Millennium Park after 6 p.m. Thursday-Sunday unless they’re accompanied by a “responsible” adult.
Young activists with Communities United, which organized the die-in, worry such rules will “further add to a narrative that criminalizes youth of color,” according to a news release.
Others have also critiqued the new policies, questioning why there are exceptions for big events like Lollapalooza — which are frequented by young, largely white crowds — and why the city would take away from youth a park long seen as safe as shootings remain high.
Some aldermen have shared research showing 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. Aldermen stalled a vote on the measure during a meeting Monday.
“We need after-hours community centers,” said Jermal Ray, 17, a youth leader who represents the West Side for Communities United. “We need to change how we are servicing our communities by creating safe spaces for internships, job training and health clinics in every neighborhood, on every side, and most importantly in the communities that are impacted by violence the most.
“I stand here, as a young black man, to say: I am here and … we will not rest until we get it. No kid should have to suffer. No mother nor father should have to see their son or daughter gone before they start to live.”
Communities United organizers called on city leaders to work with young people to create solutions that prevent violence while addressing the needs of youth. They were joined by Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) and state Rep. LaShawn Ford.
Such solutions could include programs for youth, especially in communities that have been the most impacted by violence, according to the organization’s news release. Such programs should run 1 p.m.-midnight during the summer and 4 p.m.-midnight when school is in session.
The protest started with a die-in — where demonstrators lie down as if dead — and a moment of remembrance for the Chicago youth who have died from violence.
Paris “Tree” Brown, 28, a youth leader with Communities United, said he’s lost 16 of his friends to violence — and he contemplated suicide as a young person due to the mental health trauma he’d endured and the crisis in the city.
“That was 10 years ago, and the violence and mental health crisis in the city has gotten worse,” Brown said. “Life goes on with us having to pick up the pieces with no support to rebuild and heal.
“What about youth who never get mental help to navigate pain, suffering, violence and trauma? Those are the same ones committed to violence and becoming victims. They all need help.”
Lightfoot created the curfew in Millennium Park in direct response to the fatal shooting of Seandell Holliday, 16, on May 14. A large group of young people had gathered in the park that night, and Holliday was killed during a fight.
But organizers said they should be included in those kinds of decisions, and the solutions should focus on providing resources to Chicago youth.
“We stand in solidarity with Seandell Holliday and other young people who have lost their lives to violence,” emcee DeShawn Smith, 21, said at the demonstration. “I have lost friends and family members to violence. It is time for me to be included in how we are dealing with violence.
“We need healing and mental health resources in our community to recover.”
Brown said he went to the Bean just a few days after Holliday was killed nearby and was hurt to see it was still open to tourists.
Holliday’s “life matters, and he existed,” Brown said. “Wiping up blood on the scene is not going to cover up the fact this city constantly ignores its youth, the trauma and the violence that they face daily.”
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