It was standing room only in the Chicago City Council chambers' audience area as the April 24 Public Safety Committee hearing on one of 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin's proposed anti-loitering ordinances got underway.
In recent months, the alderman proposed two ordinances designed to increase penalties for loitering. The April 24 hearing dealt with the ordinance that would increase penalties against loitering involving prostitution. The other ordinance, which would increase penalties for gang members engaged in loitering, is currently stuck in committee.
In the two months leading up to the hearing, Ervin and his wife, state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin (10th), urged their constituents to show up in force, even arranging for buses to pick them up from the JLM Center, 2622 W Jackson St.
The majority of the residents who spoke during the hearing said that loitering hurts their quality of life and resulted in more crimes, urging the council to take action as soon as possible. The opponents, on the other hand, argued that the ordinance wouldn't actually address the underlying issues and would simply result in more young people being locked up.
Ervin's proposed ordinances are designed to replace a broader "anti-gang loitering" ordinance that was first adopted in 1992 before being struck down in June 1999 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ordinance was too broad, allowing police to arrest people without any evidence that they engaged in criminal activity.
The ordinance that was addressed during the hearing would make it a crime to loiter for prostitutes trying to solicit clients and johns trying to pick up prostitutes, but only in areas that the current police superintendent designates as "frequently associated with prostitution-related loitering," Ervin said.
The superintendent would need to consult with "persons who are knowledgeable about the effects of prostitution related activity" in the area in question. That can include police officers who deal with prostitution, local elected officials, community organizations and residents who take part in CAPS program and know the area well.
If a police officer observes prostitution-related loitering, they can issue a warning. If the warning isn't heeded, they can be arrested and, if found guilty, the penalty for the first offense would be the same as for gang loitering. The second offense would be punishable by at least five days in jail and/or at least 120 hours of community service.
During the meeting, Ervin told the committee that the laws enacted after the Supreme Court ruling haven't been effective.
"We would ask to have teeth added to it, to give [the police] department teeth," he said. "People deserve to have some semblance of peace and live in peace without having to walk though dice games, without having to walk through folks selling drugs, without having to pick up condoms on their lawns. No one should have to live like this."
Aldermen Emmat Mitts (37th) and Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former police officer, both offered their support for Ervin's proposal.
"[The Supreme Court decision] has been a setback for the City of Chicago," Taliaferro said. "Gang leaders have reclaimed our streets. They have reclaimed our blocks. Thank you for giving us a tool where we can reclaim our streets from drug [sales]."
Jerry Jones, a 28th Ward resident, said he lived in Chicago since shortly after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and watched the neighborhood go down the drain.
"Somewhere along the way, neighborhoods were deteriorating because of drugs, loitering," he said. Can you imagine being a property owner trying to rent?"
While the vast majority of the residents who spoke at the meeting were in favor of the ordinance, there were a few detractors.
Housing activist Mark Carter, who has clashed with Ervin at previous community meetings, decried the ordinance as ineffective.
"I come stand in opposition of this ordinance, because back in 1992, we were young children then," he said. "It [didn't] work then, it's not going to work now. We're tired of these babies filling the penitentiaries up and now you want to come after our children? That's not going to happen. Not without a fight."
The Public Safety Committee will still need to vote on whether to send the ordinance to the full council, and the full council will need to vote on final approval. As of April 29, the committee vote hasn't been scheduled.
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