Lightfoot's plan to sue Chicago's gangs has stalled

AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes

A while back, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot put forward a proposed bill that she named the “Victims’ Justice Ordinance.” If enacted, it would authorize the city to take gang members to court and sue to seize their assets. This was a plan that was seen as being crazy enough that she couldn’t even get all of her fellow Democratic aldermen on the City Council to go along with it. When she attempted to schedule the vote, some of the members moved to put it on hold. This has been one of Lightfoot’s pet projects, and she sent a letter to all of the aldermen to better “educate” them on the proposal. As of this week, the measure is still on hold and the Mayor is taking her case to the public. (Chicago Tribune)

Days before aldermen were set to vote on Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s controversial plan to sue gang members as an anti-violence strategy, she texted an impassioned message to several City Council members seeking their support.

“We must send a strong message to gangs that we will take away their profits which last year was over $26M. I would not press this without the appropriate checks and balances and as you know, we will have to file in court, and a judge will determine whether we have met our burden of proof,” Lightfoot said in a text message, which she apparently copied and pasted to several individual aldermen in February.

“To me, this will be an essential tool we need in the crime fight. I hope we can count on your support. Let me know if you have any further questions.”

I really would like to give some credit to Lori Lightfoot here because at least she’s trying to do something to break up the power of the gangs and disincentivize gang membership. That’s more than most big city mayors can say, particularly in Baltimore. But with that said, the plan makes very little sense. What she has managed to do, however, is unite nearly everyone in law enforcement and the municipal government for once.

Nobody seems to like this plan. The police unions have scoffed at it as a waste of time and resources that will produce little or nothing. Democratic aldermen have warned that trying to do this will only end up “seizing property from grandmas who aren’t involved in gang life.” Lightfoot herself has admitted that the city will need to be able to demonstrate to the courts that City Hall can “meet the burden of proof” and have the appropriate standing to bring such suits.

I’ve no doubt that the cops (and the Mayor) have a good idea as to who the main players are in Chicago’s gang scene. The problem they have is catching them in the act or finding charges that will stick. But in order to take an action like the one Lightfoot is proposing, you need to know more than just the identity of the target. You have to be able to show the “ill-gotten” nature of their wealth and you also have to be able to identify where their wealth is located so it can be seized.

That last part is probably the biggest hurdle. “Businesses” such as illegal drug dealing, prostitution, selling vehicles that you carjack, and the black market gun trade all tend to involve cash transactions. The higher-ranking and presumably wealthier gang members near the top of the food chain probably don’t have all of their assets tied up in a Citibank retirement investment portfolio where the government can get hold of it.

If Lightfoot and the rest of our big-city mayors want to get the gang violence problem under control, I doubt they will do it with a series of lawsuits. The only thing the gangs will understand is a significant disincentive to continue their operations. You will reduce gang activity when you make the cost of doing business too high. And that’s going to involve locking up gangbangers for such extensive sentences that they will probably never see the light of day again. It’s going to take police intervention into their turf, breaking up their activities and, if it can’t be avoided, putting some of them six feet under if they try to shoot it out with the cops. But as long as nobody is interfering in their “business” too much, that business will continue to thrive and people will continue to die. I honestly don’t know how this has gone on for so long without these municipal governments realizing all of this.

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David Strom 4:01 PM on October 05, 2022