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‘Gang loitering’ law rejected

The Evanston City Council’s Human Services Committee Monday rejected a proposal to adopt a "gang loitering" ordinance modeled on a similar provision of Chicago’s city code.

The measure was intended to address complaints from residents in certain neighborhoods, including the 8th Ward, that groups of youths loitering on street corners are intimidating people, disturbing the peace and may be engaged in drug dealing and other criminal activity.

The ordinance would have let the police chief designate certain areas of town as hot spots of gang activity.

Then any time police officers saw at least one known gang member congregating with other people on the street in that area for what the officers reasonably believed were illicit purposes, the officers could order them to disperse.

If any members of the group failed to disperse or returned to the area within eight hours, they could face arrest and a fine of $100 to $500.

None of the aldermen on the committee seemed pleased with the ordinance. "I’ve got a lot of trouble with it," Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th ward, said.

"I wrote all over it," added Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, "I would not like to see kids labeled gang bangers just for a lack of recreational places for them to go."

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said, "Groups of kids, whoever they are, might intimidate some people. I just have a lot of problems with this."

He suggested that more foot patrols by police might be a better answer. "We want police to be respected and when they tell kids to disperse, have them disperse." He said when the city had officers on foot patrols they were able to establish respect with young people so that the kids would comply with the officer’s directions.

Police Chief Richard Eddington said, "This proposal was on the agenda before I got here. There doesn’t seem to be a groundswell of support to do it. I’m a proficient technician. I can implement it if you want. If not, I’ll find another way to address the problem."

Kristin Doll of 140 Custer St. said she is very sensitive to the issue of criminalizing innocent kids who don’t have anywhere to go, but that residents "are very intimidated."

The groups of young people, she said, "smoke pot; have alcohol in their hands."

"I’ve been harassed for walking by, been called names I won’t repeat," she said, "There needs to be something the police can do. So often we call the police, the kids scatter, the police leave and the kids come back."

"I’m sure a lot of these people are not certified gang members," she added, "but they’re engaging in disruptive, intimidating behavior."

Ald. Jean-Baptiste said the police department "already has laws it can enforce, such as disorderly conduct. If the young people have done these things, they ought to be arrested."

He said the ordinance would lead to "fascistic treatment" of the young people. "It would create a society were every corner has a camera and we’re still not able to address the issues."

"We’re still a small enough community to be able to reach out to these young people who are disturbing the community with their behavior and try to change the behavior," he added.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, told Ms. Doll, "We respect your concerns very much.  This committee takes very seriously the situations such as you’re describing. I think you’re entitled to be outraged. But the question is how to come to peace as a community. Sometimes you want to bring the hammer down; sometimes you want to go with a more social, personal interaction approach."

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