Community Groups Join ACLU and Cook County Pulic Defender Urging City to Drop It

An alliance of faith-based and anti-violence community leaders have joined policy organizations and government agencies to call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to drop her plan to use new civil asset forfeiture powers in response to gun violence in Chicago. Organizations opposing the ordinance include the ACLU of Illinois, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, and others.

The mayor and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown have suggested that civil asset forfeiture will target “street gangs” to reduce crime, but opponents believe there is no evidence to support this approach.

Pastor Marshall Hatch, New Mt. Pilgrim MB Church in West Garfield Park, an opponent of the proposed ordinance, said, “Trust between the police department and our community is already low. This scheme to attack families and their households wholesale for the suspected criminal activities of an alleged family member will be enforced only in Black and Brown communities. This scheme will not reduce violence. It will deepen distrust and further destabilize fragile families and poor communities. It’s morally wrong.” 

Reverend Ciera Bates-Chamberlain, executive director of the anti-violence organization Live Free Chicago and its statewide affiliate, Live Free Illinois, said, “This proposal contradicts public health strategies in the mayor’s own plan, Our City, Our Safety. This is a smoke and mirrors approach that detracts from proven strategies that actually save lives.”

Cook County Public Defender Sharone R. Mitchell, Jr. explained that the proposed Chicago asset forfeiture ordinance merely directs more punishment at communities that need resources and support. It creates a financial incentive for the city to confiscate property from people who are several steps removed from alleged members of gangs. He also said that the city’s gang database is deeply flawed and further enforcement actions using the database will only exacerbate systemic violence against Black and Brown Chicagoans.

“Chicago has a long and troubled history of unjust arrest and imprisonment. Let’s not add another chapter to this story with unjust confiscation. There are proven violence prevention strategies that should be pursued instead of this ordinance,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s statement was accompanied by the release of this letter outlining his full concerns with the ordinance. The letter was shared with City Council members this morning. 

The ACLU of Illinois said that the ordinance essentially gives the Chicago Corporation Counsel the power to take the property of an accused person even before he or she is convicted. Moreover, the ordinance shifts to the accused person the burden of proof to show that they are not involved in gang activity. Many of the people targeted will not be able to afford attorneys, and attorneys will not be provided free of charge.

“Civil asset forfeiture is not the way to achieve safety in neighborhoods across the city. It already has proven to fail in that role. It ignores proven strategies that address the root causes of crime,” said Angela Inzano, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Illinois. The ACLU has posted on its website a summary of its concerns about the ordinance.

The following individuals and organizations are on record opposing the proposed ordinance:

  • Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender
  • ACLU of Illinois
  • MAAFA Redemption Project
  • Live Free Chicago/Live Free Illinois
  • Chicago CRED
  • Communities Partnering 4 Peace
  • Illinois Justice Project (ILJP)
  • Shriver Center on Poverty Law
  • Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts
  • Public Equity
  • Pastor Autry Phillips, Hopewell M.B. Church
  • The Chicago Bar Association
  • Healing Hurt People
  • John Howard Association
  • Pastor Marshall Hatch, New Mt. Pilgrim MB Church
  • READI Chicago
  • Shriver Center on Poverty Law
  • Chicago Council of Lawyers
  • The People's Lobby
  • Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL)
  • Lucy Parsons Labs
  • Equity and Transformation (EAT)
  • Heartland Alliance
  • Liberation Library
  • Loevy & Loevy Chicago Jobs Council
  • Erase the Database Coalition
  • SoapBox Productions & Organizing
  • The #LetUsBreathe Collective
  • Chicago Torture Justice Center
  • Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC)
  • Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois
  • Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois
  • National Lawyers Guild of Chicago
  • Rev Veronica Johnson, Rev Sarah Lusche, Pastors, Hyde Park Union Church
  • Pastor Victoria C. Brady, Restoring Hope Ministries International,
  • Rev. Dr. Beth Brown, Pastor, Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church
  • One Aim/GPAC
  • Apostolic Pentecostal Church of Morgan Park
  • Amnesty International USA
  • South Shore United Methodist Church
  • Pastor Phil Jackson, Firehouse Community Arts Center
  • Faith in Place Chicago DSA
  • Chicago Community Bond Fund
  • Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
  • United Working Families