Activists Say Lori Lightfoot Is Not Meeting Their Demands to Protect Immigrants

Chicago’s new mayor is refusing to shut down the city’s infamous gang database, despite concerns that it makes residents more vulnerable to ICE.

Skyler Aikerson July 16, 2019

(Photo courtesy of Organized Communities Against Deportations/Facebook)

On July 13, more than 4,000 peo­ple ral­lied in Chica­go to protest Pres­i­dent Trump’s immi­gra­tion crack­down — part of a nation­wide day of action. But orga­niz­ers also direct­ed griev­ances at anoth­er politi­cian: Chica­go May­or Lori Lightoot, who is refus­ing to shut down the Chica­go Police Department’s (CPD) infa­mous gang data­base, despite evi­dence that it dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­gets Black and Lat­inx peo­ple — and gives Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) anoth­er tool to go after Chicagoans.

“Our message is consistent: We want the gang database closed."

The youth demands the gang data­base be erased,” Keishjuan Owens, a youth leader with Brighton Park Neigh­bor­hood Coun­cil, told the crowd. It puts so many peo­ple like you and me in harm’s way, tar­gets undoc­u­ment­ed folks, lim­its access to oppor­tu­ni­ties, jobs and schooling.”

After Trump threat­ened to unleash sweep­ing immi­gra­tion raids start­ing July 14, Light­foot announced that the CPD would not coop­er­ate with ICE, and that ICE agents would not have access to the gang data­base, known as the Cit­i­zen and Law Enforce­ment Analy­sis and Report­ing (CLEAR) database. 

Mony Ruiz-Velas­co, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Proyec­to de Acción de los Sub­ur­bios del Oeste (PASO), a local immi­grants’ rights orga­ni­za­tion, told In These Times Sat­ur­day before the ral­ly that this ges­ture goes beyond any­thing that any of the pre­vi­ous may­ors were ever will­ing to do.” 

Yet, Ruiz-Velas­co said it is not enough: We would like to see those data­bas­es eliminated.” 

At Saturday’s march, orga­niz­ers and speak­ers repeat­ed this call for the gang data­base to be shut down. 

Our mes­sage is con­sis­tent: We want the gang data­base closed,” said Darcey Regan, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Indi­vis­i­ble Chicago.

The gang data­base, which orig­i­nat­ed in 2002 under the Richard M. Daley admin­is­tra­tion, includes infor­ma­tion on Cook Coun­ty res­i­dents the CPD claims are crim­i­nal offend­ers” or affil­i­at­ed with gangs.” Black and brown Chicagoans are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get­ed and added to the data­base for sup­posed gang affil­i­a­tion. The Chica­go Tri­bune reports that 96 per­cent of the near­ly 65,000 peo­ple iden­ti­fied as sus­pect­ed gang mem­bers are Black or Lati­no.” Accord­ing to ProP­ub­li­ca Illi­nois, the data­base has been accessed over a mil­lion times in the past decade by many orga­ni­za­tions and agen­cies, includ­ing ICE. A report by Joe Fer­gu­son, Chicago’s inspec­tor gen­er­al, found that between 2009 and 2018, more than 32,000 queries came from fed­er­al immi­gra­tion author­i­ties.” Ferguson’s report rec­om­mend­ed that stronger stan­dards be put in place to make sure the gang data­base is accu­rate, and that the CPD eval­u­ate the use­ful­ness of the data­base itself.

The data­base has been shown to con­tain inac­cu­rate or mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion, such as list­ing peo­ple as 0 years old, or includ­ing peo­ple who had not been arrest­ed or accused of a crime. The cri­te­ria for being added to the data­base are vague, and peo­ple can be added sim­ply because a police offi­cer claims to have spe­cial intel­li­gence on the sub­ject of gangs.” 

These murky cri­te­ria have led to the pro­fil­ing of Black and Lat­inx peo­ple. In 2017, two men brought sep­a­rate law­suits against the CPD, argu­ing that they had been pro­filed as gang mem­bers and erro­neous­ly put in the data­base. One of them, Wilmer Cata­lan-Ramirez, was sub­se­quent­ly arrest­ed and detained by ICE. After being detained for 10 months, he was released in Jan­u­ary 2018.

The data­base has been the tar­get of repeat­ed protests. In Octo­ber 2017, dur­ing Rahm Emanuel’s admin­is­tra­tion, Orga­nized Com­mu­ni­ties Against Depor­ta­tions (OCAD) and Black Youth Project 100 protest­ed out­side of City Hall with three large art instal­la­tions that crit­i­cized the gang data­base, as well as Emanuel’s pro­posed cop acad­e­my.

Light­foot has sug­gest­ed that the gang data­base should under­go some changes to improve account­abil­i­ty and trans­paren­cy, such as cre­at­ing a sys­tem for audit­ing infor­ma­tion. She also has said, “[T]here can be legit­i­mate pur­pos­es for col­lect­ing that data [in the gang data­base]. But that’s the rub: legit­i­mate purposes.”

Clos­ing loopholes

Light­foot is declin­ing to meet anoth­er com­mu­ni­ty request to pro­tect immi­grants. Accord­ing to OCAD, on June 29, Lightfoot’s office received an exec­u­tive order draft­ed by the Immi­gra­tion Work­ing Group, which con­sists of sev­er­al com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions (includ­ing OCAD). If signed, the exec­u­tive order would ensure the CPD can­not work with ICE in any capac­i­ty, and it would close loop­holes in Chicago’s pre-exist­ing Wel­com­ing City ordi­nance, cre­at­ed in 2012. Rey Wences, an orga­niz­er with OCAD, said the ordi­nance allows police to work with ICE, for instance, if some­one is in the gang data­base or if some­one has a felony con­vic­tion or charge. They say, As we know, there’s been an increase in crim­i­nal­iza­tion. And there are peo­ple that have felonies but they are made up of non-vio­lent offenses.”

This exec­u­tive order would cod­i­fy the state­ments the may­or made,” says Wences.

The community’s pro­posed exec­u­tive order clos­es an impor­tant loop­hole by deny­ing not only ICE, but any oth­er agency with­in the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, direct access to any elec­tron­ic data­base or oth­er data-shar­ing plat­form” belong­ing to the CPD. 

Anto­nio Gutier­rez, an orga­niz­er with OCAD, told In These Times that the com­mu­ni­ty exec­u­tive order, if signed by Light­foot, would ensure that the CPD would not be par­tic­i­pat­ing or col­lab­o­rat­ing with ICE in any sit­u­a­tion.” Gut­tier­rez said that because Lightfoot’s announce­ment and sub­se­quent pack­age of exec­u­tive actions do not explic­it­ly address the loop­holes in the Wel­com­ing City ordi­nance, she leaves room for poten­tial CPD and ICE collaboration.

Light­foot told the Chica­go Sun-Times that she would not sign OCAD’s exec­u­tive order. It would be easy to pan­der to the crowd,” she said. But I want to do this in a way that’s actu­al­ly gonna be mean­ing­ful and struc­tur­al and lasting.”

The fact that she did not sign the exec­u­tive order is unfor­tu­nate,” said Wences.

On Fri­day, Curbed Chica­go report­ed that Light­foot signed a sep­a­rate pack­age of exec­u­tive actions that restricts ICE’s access to pub­lic facil­i­ties, such as parks and libraries, and increas­es fund­ing towards Chicago’s Legal Pro­tec­tion Fund.

Con­cerned about what a poten­tial esca­la­tion in immi­gra­tion raids could mean for Chica­go, res­i­dents are prepar­ing for the worst. Saturday’s march also aimed to con­nect Chicagoans to var­i­ous resources for help in case of ICE arrests, such as the Illi­nois Coali­tion for Immi­grant and Refugee Rights’ Fam­i­ly Sup­port Hot­line. Orga­niz­ers urged allies to take fur­ther, sus­tain­able action by get­ting involved with local orga­ni­za­tions and actions, such as neigh­bor­hood bike and foot brigades, which patrolled and defend­ed Chica­go neigh­bor­hoods against ICE activ­i­ty on Sun­day. With the sup­port of demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist alder­woman Rossana Rodriguez, Chicagoans flocked to Albany Park, a neigh­bor­hood with a large pop­u­la­tion of Cen­tral Amer­i­can refugees, where they were trained on how to spot and act against poten­tial ICE activ­i­ty. As of July 15, the Chica­go Tri­bune reports that there have been no signs of ICE raids in the city. How­ev­er, the Tri­bune reports that offi­cials have said that the sweeps will con­tin­ue through the com­ing week.”

Skyler Aik­er­son is an edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times.
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