The Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras community group is continuing with its class action lawsuit against the City of Chicago over the improper issuance of speeding tickets and it’s looking to get more residents involved, especially on the South and West Sides.
According to city law, drivers who were allegedly caught speeding were supposed to get two notices letting them know that they have a right to appeal. The lawsuit alleged that, because the city only sent out one notice to those drivers, it violated due process.
In April 2016, Cook County Circuit Court judge Kathleen Kennedy rejected the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In Sept. 14, 2016, the City Council approved an ordinance allowing the city to send out second notices, giving residents another chance to appeal. In November 2016, Kennedy certified the lawsuit’s class action status, which would ensure that, if the case is won, everyone who didn’t get the second notice would benefit.
CARLC maintains that, because the tickets shouldn’t have been issued in the first place, this was little more than an attempt by the city to get residents to pay the fines before the court rules against it. In a recent series of community meetings, Mark Wallace, the group’s executive director, has been urging everybody who received second notices to respond with a legal statement that would say as much. He said he hopes that, if enough people object, the city would change course.
Late in December 2016, the city sent out the second notices. This prompted CARLC to try to contact everyone who received them, and set up meetings to inform them about what they should do.
Wallace said that he believes that the red light cameras are illegal and that they disproportionately affect drivers on the South and West sides. He also addressed the accusation that CARLC doesn’t care about traffic safety.
“We don’t even respond to that kind of ridiculousness,” Wallace said. “The city hasn’t even taken one dollar [from the red light cameras] to study the intersections they claim are the most dangerous.”
He added that the city’s budgets don’t indicate how exactly the red light camera revenues are spent. Wallace outlined the class action and explained that, with the latest action, he and his organization were trying to send a message.
“I decided that this is going to be a campaign, a crusade, and we hope we’ll get the public to rise up with us,” he said.
To that end, Wallace handed out a three-page form to everyone in attendance. The form stated that the person who signs it doesn’t want to contest the tickets and specifies that the signee were doing is protesting the entire process. The form also cites several legal arguments as to why the Chicago red light camera program in, general, and the notices, specifically, are illegal.
Each form has spaces where residents would need to write down which speeding tickets they are responding to. Wallace said that, if several notices came in one envelope, they can use one form to respond to all of them. If they got notices in multiple envelopes, they would need to fill out a separate form per envelope. Wallace recommended that residents make copies of the forms once they fill them and keep them.
PDF versions of the form have been posted on the organization’s website, at http://www.citizenstoabolishredlightcameras.com/. Wallace hopes that enough people will send in forms to get the city government’s attention.
There is also a link on the website to a MoveOn.org petition “calling for the removal and a permanent ban on traffic enforcement cameras in Illinois, which to date have collected over $600,000,000.00 in Chicago alone.” The petition has so far garnered more than 1,160 signatures.
“All this is going to do is they are going to receive a bunch of forms,” Wallace said. “And I hope they’ll do something stupid, like go public with it.”
Wallace said that, while he hopes the lawsuit would only take a year to resolve, he expects it to take longer. Ultimately, Wallace said, the goal of the campaign isn’t just to get the tickets thrown out; rather, it is to mobilize residents to demand more equitable distribution of resources and development opportunities.
“It is my hope that, through this effort, we not only address this issue, but there are many other [issues] that we need to work together on to win,” he said.
The coalition meets regularly at Logos Baptist Assembly church on the South Side. A West Side meeting is planned for Jan. 25, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at New Mouth Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd.
During a Jan. 18 meeting, all of the attendees said they support the lawsuit.
“I’m very pleased, because I didn’t like the way the [red light camera ticketing] system was set up,” said Wilhelmenia Muhammad, of Bronzeville. “It fees unfair, a burden.”
Robert Moore, who said he lives in South Holland but owns rental property in Austin, said that Wallace’s approach was “perfect.”
“This is how you resist injustice,” he said. “We will always be victims of injustice, always, [unless] we keep pushing, keep fighting. And when you lose some ground, it’s unfortunate, but you have to keep fighting.”