Chicago Law Targeted at Street Gangs Up for Review
Published on December 9, 1998
Chat: Anti-Gang Ordinance
Warren Friedman, founder and executive director of the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety, is opposed to the city’s anti-gang loitering ordinance. As our chat guest Tuesday, Friedman shared his thoughts on why he believes the law violates people’s rights.
Rich Gillespie from [184.108.40.206], at 12:29pm ET
How does the Anti-Gang ordinance help? Is there any proof of this actually working? Belonging seems to be a basic human need, wouldn’t it be better to create better alternatives to belong to? If that’s been done, has it worked?
Warren Friedman at 12:33pm ET
I don’t think the anti-gang ordinance will be helpful. Over the long-term I think it will be destructive of neighborhood safety and solidarity.
Chicago did it for three years, between 1993 and 1995. In the first year, gang-related homicides went up, in the second year it went down, and right after the enforcement ended it went up slightly. And in 1997, the last complete year, gang-related homicides were lower than the peak in 1994, the lowest since the Chicago Police Department redefined gang-related violence. That’s without any enforcement. There is no evidence in their own data that this makes neighborhoods safer.
One of the reasons we think this will eventually harm neighborhoods is that it will criminalize young people, making it hard to get into the job market. It will divide neighborhoods among generational lines, and racial lines in mixed neighborhoods. There is very strong evidence that cohesive neighborhoods are critical in reducing violence of all kinds.
Michael from [220.127.116.11], at 12:38pm ET
I believe we should help those who are in gangs. I myself was a gang member and leader. But you say that you want to keep them off the streets. This is good. But tell me how are you going to keep them and their minds occupied?
Warren Friedman at 12:38pm ET
I’m not a gang expert. But it seems to me as if there are programs that have other approaches. Boston has the most successful program in the country. For two years they had no gang-related homicides.
The Chicago law unifies the gang. It treats all gang members as equally the enemy. It also treats all young people as gang members, by making all young people subject to arrest. Treat people like gang members, and you stimulate that kind of behavior. One of the thing my organization says, there need to be a variety of affordable, welcoming, safe places for people to hang out.
There are two complaints about loitering: one is kids being destructive, and the other is about actual lawbreaking. Most of the complaints are about activities that are already illegal. Why aren’t the police able to enforce these laws? Chicago started a community police strategy, neighbors and police working together. It’s abandoning that.
Rand Rueter from [18.104.22.168] at 12:44pm ET
Why shouldn’t a community have the right to decide that loitering, as opposed to gathering to hold a meeting or other structured assembly is illegal?
The right to free speech does not cover yelling “fire” in a theater, why should the right of assembly be used to protect ill behaviours?
Alan Hyams from nwf.org at 12:44pm ET
Why is the right to stand in the street more critical than the right not to be murdered or attacked?
Warren Friedman at 12:45pm ET
Chicago started a community police strategy, neighbors and police working together. It’s abandoning that. There’s a distinction between dangerous people standing in the street breaking the law, and innocent people standing in the street to congregate.
It’s important to keep in mind that crime is declining in this country. We should be keeping that in mind, and keep doing what we’re doing. The question is not a question of individual rights vs. neighborhood safety. In Chicago, youth homicides declined from 1994-1997 by 33%. Gun-related killings declined by 32%. Something is going right! They don’t have to sacrifice their rights to live safely.
Camaren Peter from [22.214.171.124], at 12:48pm ET
Isn’t this just another case of ‘some animals are more equal than others’?? What becomes of freedom of movement and association in areas where gangs exist. Won’t this be another excuse for an already corrupt and often racist police force to abuse communities under the protection of the law. Why isn’t anybody looking for real solutions to socio-economic problems that encourage the formation of gangs?
In South Africa, under apartheid law, states of emergency were repeatedly declared during the 80’s. The curfews and restrictions were only policed against black people, or people of colour. Its quite evident that these draconian vote-getting solutions are an attempt to deflect and bury rather than deal with the existing problems that create disorder and confusion amongst disadvantaged people.
Warren Friedman at 12:49pm ET
There is a serious racial issue in this ordinance. There’s no question it will be applied disproportionately against young black males, also young latino males. There’s also a broader question. Our survey, published in 1995, showed 59% of white youth felt they were treated with disrespect by the police. 62% of black youth felt they were treated disrepectfully, 63% of lation youth felt treated disrespectfully.
Police don’t respect youth. They’re often called to deal with youth in a way that neighborhoods should be dealing with them. Most neighbors know their neighborhood. I’ve worked in neighborhoods that are high-crime. There’s progress in those neighborhoods. If the city of Chicago would make community policing work, we wouldn’t be resorting to these get-tough tactics.
A couple of days ago, the Chicago superintendant announced that we were going to a New York model of policing. That means mass arrests, which stimulates mass complaints. And the mayor is trying to get out from under a decree that keeps him from having a red police, or political police. The overall picture of policing in Chicago is oppressive, and likely to make people less safe.
Cynthia from loveland.dt.oneimage.com at 12:56pm ET
Such a law frightens me. I foresee martial law down the road. However, what options do cities have for protecting their citizens?
Warren Friedman at 12:56pm ET
The first thing that has to happen is to enforce just laws that are on the books. For drug dealing, there are buy and bust operations, and surveillance. Citizens can disrupt drug markets. Job training is critical, and cities have to have places for young people to go. This law is not necessary. When frustration mounts, politicians make laws to make themselves look active.
Jimmy from [126.96.36.199], at 12:58pm ET
What rights of assembly are entitled to members of a gang? Do they have the right to assemble if they are also invloved in illegal activities? The answer is no. congrigating for gangs is the equivalent of yelling “fire.” The main problem is how do you distenguish between gangs and the rest of the youth of america? Is it a question of a cop’s decision? If so, that puts too much power in the hands of the police.
Warren Friedman at 12:58pm ET
The Illinois court found this puts too much power in the hands of the police – a grant of “absolute discretion.” Going back to our survey in 1995, we found the police, in terms of how they treated young people, was no different for gang members or honor students. The police say, “The boys in blue won’t enforce it, only specialists will.” There are two responses to this. One is, that’s not true. The law gives the power to any district commander, who can order any patrolman to enforce it.
Secondly, the recent police scandals in Chicago have been among these specialists. So it’s not too comforting that these specialists enforce the law. Gang members have a right to assemble as long as they’re not involved in illegal activities. Drug-dealing, harassing people, blocking passage, are illegal activities.
In conclusion, crime is going down. Community policing, when it’s done right, involves people when it works. That way we build neighborhoods, protect our rights, and don’t criminalize youth.