Chicago Mayor Lightfoot defends 'suing gangs' proposal despite not letting City Council vote on it

Mayor Lori Lightfoot pulled her controversial gang assets proposal before the Chicago City Council could vote on it Wednesday, but she insists the city needs it desperately.

The proposal would empower the city to file a civil lawsuit against an alleged gang leader, with the goal of seizing ill-gotten gains. Critics say that, after decades of criminal prosecutions that dismantled once formidable criminal organizations, there are few gang kingpins left.

After acknowledging that at a news conference, Lightfoot added, "but there are still some gangs in the city who are very powerful, who are very hierarchical, and who have defined leadership that is profiting mightily. Those are the ones that we're gonna focus our attention to."

Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois oppose the mayor's plan to file civil lawsuits. They argue that any multi-millionaire gang leaders should face the same federal prosecutions that put their predecessors behind bars decades ago.

In the 1990s, when federal prosecutors sent leaders of the gangster disciples to prison for murder and other crimes, they showed in court how the GDS made more than $150 million a year from narcotics and other illegal businesses. Today, instead of a few large gangs like that, law enforcers say Chicago faces hundreds of small cliques and factions, some of whom Lightfoot wants to hit with civil lawsuits to seize ill-gotten assets.

But Ed Yohnka, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, says Lightfoot’s proposal is written too broadly. He predicts it would also be ineffective.

"Civil asset forfeiture has never been shown to reduce gun violence. And she says it will. And if it does, it will be the first time in recorded history," Yohnka said.


Several potential candidates for mayor also say Lightfoot's plan to sue gangsters won't cut violence, including former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, co-founder of the anti-violence group Chicago CRED.

Appearing on Flannery Fired Up last weekend, Duncan said there are better ideas.

"The biggest driver of violence in the city right now, Mike, is retaliation," Duncan said. "It's because almost no shootings get solved. No homicides get solved, a very small percent. When there isn't justice in the criminal justice system, you have unfortunately street justice."

Lightfoot repeatedly defended her proposal at Wednesday’s news conference.

"The notion that somehow this ordinance won't make a difference – or, I’ve also heard, it's gonna make matters worse – tell that to people living in neighborhoods that they are terrified! Terrified to come out of their homes to live a normal life. Because they are afraid of gang violence," Lightfoot said.

The mayor said she's open to rewriting her proposal, but says filing civil lawsuits against gang leaders is a viable anti-violence strategy.