CHICAGO — Youth social justice group GoodKids MadCity is suing city leaders to change Chicago’s youth curfew, which organizers contend unfairly targets young Black and Brown people.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, group leaders said the citywide curfew impedes on its members’ First Amendment rights. Organizers said some of the work they do — including monitoring the conduct of police officers and advising people on their rights — is constitutionally protected and often happens outside of city curfew hours.
But nothing in the city’s policy carves out an exception for that work, making young organizers vulnerable to being cited for curfew violations, the group said in the lawsuit.
The group filed the lawsuit after city officials refused their requests to revise the curfew enforcement so GoodKids MadCity organizers can continue their community outreach, organizers wrote in the suit. The group also is asking for an emergency hearing requesting the city back off of its curfew enforcement this Halloween weekend, when organizers lead peacekeeping and police accountability activities in Hyde Park.
“The citywide curfew chills GKMC members from hosting peacekeeping and copwatching activities during curfew hours,” the group wrote in the lawsuit. “GKMC member fear that if they participate in these activities during curfew hours, [police] officers will subject them to arrest, harassment and/or police violence.”
In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’ll let the court take the lead here.
“If you read the ordinance, there’s plenty of opportunity in the ordinance itself for them to do exactly what they’re saying they want to do … but there’s nothing that prevents people who are active and engaged, going to events, staffing events, from being out in the city,” Lightfoot said.
The weekend curfew for youth was moved from 11 to 10 p.m. and expanded to include 17-year-olds in May. Separately, Lightfoot issued an executive order banning unaccompanied minors younger than 16 from Millennium Park after 6 p.m. on weekends.
Lightfoot championed the updated curfew and overall curfew enforcement as a way to combat Downtown violence after a 16-year-old was fatally shot at The Bean. She faced pushback from local groups, youth organizers and aldermen, who pointed to research the showed curfews are ineffective. But the expanded curfew passed City Council in a 30-19 vote.
Cop watching is one of the primary activities for GoodKids MadCity organizers, according to their lawsuit.
Organizers “take eyewitness accounts, record video footage, record[ing] the identities and contact information of young people who have police contact so that they can assist in securing counsel and jail support,” according to the lawsuit. Members also “provide information to youth about their constitutional rights when engaging with officers,” according to the group.
Peacekeeping includes “walking the streets and encouraging other young people to join them in mutual aid and other community building efforts,” according to court documents. This can include mediating conflict between young people, disrupting violence and vandalism, distributing food and more.
GoodKids MadCity considers both to be “non-traditional First Amendment activities” that regularly happen after hours.
Although the Police Department’s policy for “processing curfew violators” includes a safety clause for those exercising their First Amendment rights, GoodKids MadCity leaders say that does not go far enough to protect their organizers and their work.
The group also fears retaliation because they have been critical of the Police Department, according to their lawsuit.
“Even though courts have long held and recognized that cop watching is protect First Amendment activity, in the absence of specific instruction from [the Police Department, police] officers are unlikely to recognize cop watching as protected First Amendment activity,” according to the lawsuit. “Unlike a group of people gathered to protest an issue using signs, chants and other tactics, youth leaders that cop watch often appear to be merely loitering in a public space — even though their presence is protected, expressive activity.”
Protesting outside Lollapalooza in July, GoodKids MadCity signaled they were prepared to take the issue to court if city officials did not negotiate. They said they moved forward with the lawsuit after city officials refused to include a clause in the curfew guidelines explicitly protecting “protest, violence interruption activities, observing and/or documenting the activities of law enforcement (commonly referred to as cop watching), mutual aid and/or food distribution, alternative recreational activities hosted for the purpose of community safety and well-being any gathering focused on political education and/or learning about rights.”
A Block Club Chicago investigation found that between May 27 and Aug. 8, police primarily enforced the curfew on the South and West sides — where GoodKids MadCity tends to do its outreach.
Additionally, the Sun-Times analyzed data about who was cited for curfew violations during massive Downtown protests after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd. In that, the Sun-Times found 75 percent of the 400 violations were given to Black people.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: