A non-violent approach to crime prevention is being questioned by some in Chicago’s black community as being akin to racial profiling.
In an effort to curb violence during the traditionally violent Memorial Day weekend, Chicago deployed an additional 1,300 officers, many of whom focused their patrols on the city’s lakefront and other downtown parks where groups of teens and teen gangs are known to congregate.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “Police spent much of Memorial Day weekend tracking and chasing groups of teens through downtown for what often began as ‘borderline criminal behavior’ and sometimes ended in vandalism and fights. Officers shut down beaches and parks early, and ‘directed’ large groups of teens toward trains and buses.”
Some of those teens were directed to commuter trains that operated on “express” routes that would take the teens several miles from the downtown area, most that were heading back to largely African-American neighborhoods.
Edwin Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told the newspaper that reports of police funneling groups en masse to express trains were “incredibly troubling.”
“Who made that decision?” he said. “How were decisions made about who was going to be put on that train?”
Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson Johnson told WBBM-TV that nobody’s civil rights were violated and nobody involved was forced to leave via public transportation.
“I know there were some questions about us forcing people to get on CTA buses and what I can tell you is this: We didn’t force anybody,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We directed people to different stops — it’s simply a public safety issue.”
On a weekend when seven people were shot to death and dozens more wounded, Johnson said the police were simply trying to stop small incidents from becoming larger, more violent situations.
“We had a few issues in the downtown area with individuals fighting, we responded rapidly and quite well to those incidents,” Johnson said. “Sometimes kids do goofy things, we all know that,” Johnson said. “Locking up 100 or 200 juveniles for being juveniles, I don’t think we want to do that. If they are committing actual crimes, we will arrest them.”
Deputy police chief Al Nagode said there was a concentrated effort by the police to monitor large groups of teens in the downtown area.
“They came down here specifically to cause problems,” Nagode told reporters. “They were running in and out of traffic, they were confronting different groups, they were running into businesses doing different activities that were borderline criminal, mostly nuisance, so the officers have to work that fine line of, do we (go) out there to arrest somebody.”
“A lot of it is the nuisance that they’re doing. It’s part of what we get with teens,” Nagode said. “The resources it would take me to lock up 100 kids who were fighting would be tremendous, so we have to mitigate, stop the problem and do what’s necessary to make (everyone) safe.”
Nagode said once orders were given for authorities to start clearing beaches and parks, officers directed the teens toward buses and train stations. They mostly complied as officers opened gates and moved people through.
“We’re just not randomly picking (a train) stop and getting them out of there, we’re affording them an opportunity to leave the area,” Nagode said. “And once they realize a lot of times they will be placed under arrest if it rises to that level, a lot of people will thankfully take that option and get out of there.”
Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who works on civil rights and police accountability matters, told the Tribune the police strategy appears to be a form of racial profiling.
“(Police should not) pick on or single out groups on the basis of race for selective treatment or discriminatory treatment. That’s a problem,” Futterman said.
Johnson claims the notion of clearing areas as opposed to moving in to make hundreds of arrests is something departments in large cities like New York and Los Angeles have also adopted.
While police believe their methods were successful for reducing the instances of more crime, one city official says the police were too leniant. Alderman Brian Hopkins believes making more arrests sends a stronger message.
“I think that when you have people committing assaults, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass to property when they’re entering the parks after they’re closed for the night, we need to take another look at the tactics and consider making more arrests,” Hopkins told the Tribune. “I think the pendulum has swung a little too far in the direction of leniency.”
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