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Chicago mayor wants to sue gang members to curb city’s crime problems

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. (MacLean Center photo, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
September 14, 2021

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is pursuing a new strategy to curb the city’s crime rates: suing gang members.

Lightfoot said the city will sue gang members to “take their assets,” in exchange for damages caused by their violent activities, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday.

The Illinois Street Gang Prevention Act, has allowed the state’s attorneys in suburban counties to sue gang members, seeking to collect for monetary damages and to impose court orders barring gang members from associating with each other and possessing guns. Lightfoot announced she would propose an ordinance Monday that would allow the city’s attorneys to pursue similar actions in court.

“We can’t wait for anybody else,” Lightfoot said. “We have an opportunity to bring these violent street gangs into civil court, out of the shadows, expose them for what they are — and, if we’re successful, and I think we will be, take their assets and the profit motive for killing our babies.

“We have to put a marker down that we are using every tool in our toolkit to push back against these violent gangs that are leaving a trail of blood and death and misery in their wake.”

Lightfoot has disagreed with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who oversees state cases in Chicago, on how to handle gun cases, carjackings and other crimes. Lightfoot said her plan to start suing gang members, however, is not an attempt to bypass Foxx.

DuPage County was one of the first to successfully sue gang members. In 2004, the county won an injunction barring 14 members of the Satan Disciples gang from publicly associating with each other or possessing firearms.

While DuPage County has successfully sued gang members, the practice has seen mixed results in other places.

John Mauck, an attorney who successfully defended four men against such a gang prevention lawsuit in Kane County in 2018, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Lightfoot’s plan is “98% political and 2% reality.”

Mauck said hundreds of gang members have been targeted with lawsuits in recent years in Kane County, but that the lawsuits were rarely successful in collecting monetary damages.

Mauck’s 2018 case, was one example of how such lawsuits can fall apart without adequate evidence that a person is, in fact, a gang member. During the lawsuit, an Elgin city police officer testified that the four men were added to a gang database after they attended the funeral of a Latin Kings member. The judge later determined the gang members weren’t even members of the gang when the lawsuit was filed.

“It’s a toothless charade,” Mauck said. “They can get dozens of court orders, but it will not stop crime.”

Mauck also said the practice of taking the battle against street gangs to the civil side of the courts unfairly targets low-income individuals who are not granted court-appointed lawyers the way they would in a criminal proceeding.