Ald. Michael Scott. | YouTube

Ald. Michael Scott (24th) is backing an ordinance that would create specific fines and jail time for looting, as well as allow the police to impound vehicles allegedly involved in looting.

The ordinance was introduced by Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose Far South Side ward includes the entirety of Beverly, Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood neighborhoods. The latter, in particular, is home to a large number of first-responders. The 95th Street business district in Beverly, which is home to several of the ward’s Black-owned businesses, was among the South and West Side commercial corridors that saw widespread looting on in late May and early June following the death of George Floyd. 

O’Shea’s ordinance currently has 21 co-sponsors, five of whom are Black. As of Sept. 24, Scott is the only West Side alderman to sign on as a co-sponsor. The ordinance will need to clear the Committee on Public Safety, which is chaired by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), but it is not currently clear when the committee might consider it. 

After Floyd’s death in May, the city experienced several protests. On May 30, stores in the Loop and the surrounding neighborhoods were looted, leading Mayor Lori Lightfoot to lock down the central business district. The following day, looting swept through several commercial corridors on the South and West sides, including the Madison/Pulaski corridor in West Garfield Park and major intersections along Madison St. and North Ave. in Austin. 

After a wave of looting swept through central areas in the early hours of Aug. 10, the city locked down the Madison/Pulaski corridor, but while there was a confrontation between police and a group of residents, the looting didn’t materialize.

O’Shea told the Beverly Review newspaper in mid-August that, with his ordinance, he was “trying to offer an additional tool to the Chicago Police Department” to deal with looting.

“I support the First Amendment right to peacefully protest, but when it turns into civil unrest, whether that be breaking into businesses, destroying property or attacking police officers, this has to stop,” he was quoted as saying. “The only way we’re going to rebuild our city—the only way we’re going to rebuild relationships—is if we can get the civil unrest under control.”

O’Shea’s ordinance defines looting as forcibly breaking into another person’s property, or taking advantage of the entrance that was already pried open, during “emergency conditions” such as “a hurricane, fire, riot, mob, or any other natural or man-made crisis.” 

The ordinance mentions that the person doesn’t have to actually steal anything to be charged with looting. If more than one person participated, each person would be charged separately. Those found guilty would be subject to a $1,000 to $2,000 fine and/or up to six months of jail time. The police would also have the right to tow and impound any cars the looters were driving at the time until the owner pays a $2,000 fine, plus the “fees for the towing and storage of the vehicle.” The owner would have the right to appeal the impoundment. 

Scott has not publicly commented on the ordinance and he didn’t respond to the request for comment by deadline. 

The ordinance currently has support from five Black Caucus members: Scott, Ald Gregory Mitchell (7th), Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), Ald Derrick Curtis (18th) and Ald. Howard Brookins (21st). 

As the chair of the Committee on Public Safety, Taliaferro has the discretion to decide when O’Shea’s ordinance will be considered, if at all. While a meeting was scheduled on Sept. 28, it has since been cancelled and none of the meetings for the rest of the year have been scheduled as of Sept. 24.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...