Advocates Blast Chicago Plan To Sweep Up ‘Drug Corner’ Teens Before July 4

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, shown at a May press conference, announced on Monday a plan to arrest teens on “drug corners” in the run-up to the July 4 holiday so they can’t contribute to gun violence that often spikes on long weekends in the summer. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, shown at a May press conference, announced on Monday a plan to arrest teens on “drug corners” in the run-up to the July 4 holiday so they can’t contribute to gun violence that often spikes on long weekends in the summer. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Advocates Blast Chicago Plan To Sweep Up ‘Drug Corner’ Teens Before July 4

Civil-rights advocates and some criminologists are panning a Chicago plan to arrest teenagers on “drug corners” this week to keep them from inflaming the city’s traditional July 4 gun-violence surge.

Police Superintendent David Brown, announcing the plan during a Monday news conference, said teens are often paid to carry guns at drug-retail locations because they can face lighter penalties and said they are getting out of jail too quickly after their arrest.

“We have to have a different outcome when we make a [gun] arrest or an open-air drug market arrest, because these two types of arrests are the precursors to violence in Chicago, and right now there’s zero consequence to those arrests,” Brown said.

Brown said he is asking Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Judge Timothy Evans to make sure these teens remain in jail over the holiday weekend.

“Our endgame is arrests for the precursors to violence,” Brown said. “Every day we’re going to be clearing drug corners to protect these young people from the violence. But when we clear the corner, we’re pleading with the court systems: Keep them in jail through the weekend.”

“If we make an arrest Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we’re pleading [for them to be held] through the weekend, at least,” Brown said. “Let’s protect these young people, who are a victim of their circumstances in many cases. They have no other opportunity. They’re there on that corner but for mentoring, job, education — some are personally responsible for that decision — but many are being manipulated.”

But criminologists said there is no academic research indicating that jailing people is effective as a prophylactic for expected holiday-related violence.

“This idea is potentially disastrous,” University of Chicago sociologist Robert Vargas said. “Arresting them is only going to make the violence problem worse because the legitimacy of the police in Black and brown communities is already so low.”

“Let’s just assume that what the police are doing is lawful,” said Vargas, an expert on Chicago gangs. “Communities are tired of these interactions with the police. If you’re trying to arrest your way out of this problem, it’s not going to work.”

Civil-rights advocates said Brown’s plan amounts to punishing pre-trial defendants who are supposed to be presumed innocent.

“If criminalization and incarceration made communities safer, the United States would be the safest country in the world,” Chicago Community Bond Fund Executive Director Sharlyn Grace said. “The communities most impacted by gun violence need resources and investment, not more policing and jailing.”

Karen Sheley, an attorney with the ACLU of Illinois, said Brown’s plan resembles the summer holiday approaches of past superintendents: “We have heard this all before — that young men should be in jail for their own safety.”

“This is a terrible idea in the best of times,” Sheley said, referring to COVID-19’s spread in Cook County Jail this spring. “In the midst of a pandemic, it could be a death sentence for these young men or members of their family on release.”

Foxx’s office, asked whether it will heed Brown and ask judges to order “drug corner” teens to be held through the weekend, emailed a statement that says Illinois law does not allow prosecutors to make such a request.

The statement said prosecutors “will continue to litigate all matters on a case-by-case basis following the law as it applies to each individual case.”

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans did not respond to questions about how judges would handle Brown’s request. Evans in recent years has been a proponent of quickly granting bail to defendants who are found by judges to pose no threat to public safety.

Intensified narcotics and gun enforcement just before Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends is an old CPD tactic, but police often stated their targets were repeat offenders and suspected crime leaders, not teenage underlings.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a Monday news conference said she communicates with Brown on a daily basis. But her office did not immediately respond whether she backs Brown’s plan to sweep up teens from drug corners before the weekend.

During the coming weekend itself, Brown also announced that 1,200 additional officers will be on patrol.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about criminal justice. WBEZ politics reporter Claudia Morell contributed. Follow them at @ChipMitchell1 and @claudiamorell.