On June 25th 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez proposed a new ordinance (O2021-2870) that would fine youth charged with crimes related to staying out past curfew, intoxication, selling alcohol, possession of cannabis, hosting parties where alcohol is consumed by minors, possession of firearms, and assisting minors’ engagement in the listed behaviors $1,000 dollars and refer the youth to mandatory family counseling.
Though the proposed ordinance attaches the fee and the mandatory family counseling to youth, it could also have major implications for guardians who may be liable for the fee and participation in family counseling. If youth and guardians do not pay the initial $1,000 dollar fee and do not attend mandatory counseling, they will be fined an additional $1,500 dollars
Matthew O’Shea (19th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Anthony Napolitano (41st), and Brendan Reilly (42nd) cosponsored the proposal. None responded to the Weekly’s requests for comment. The ordinance proposal is in its first draft; on the same date it was introduced, the proposal was also referred to the Committee on Committees and Rules, which Lopez and other co-sponsoring alderpeople are members of.
In a recent interview with WGN Radio, Lopez, whose ward spans neighborhoods on the Southwest Side, blamed families as a cause of violence in Chicago. “I know nobody likes to bring this up. We’ve seen that throughout the entirety of conversations about Adam Toledo,” Lopez said. “But if we keep ducking and dodging that root cause of what is going on in our city, in our families, in our neighborhoods we’re never going to have an impact.”
Lopez said he also doubted the effectiveness of anti-violence programs, suggesting that carceral interventions were necessary. “Unfortunately a number of my colleagues are trying to focus on, you know, spending more money on programs and social justice-type issues without confronting the elephant in the room, which is that gangs and criminals are emboldened in this city while parents are asleep at the switch,” he said.
Dr. Franklin Cosey-Gay, the executive director of the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, a center actively involved in community-driven anti-violence programs on the Southeast of Chicago, called Lopez’s proposal “short-sighted” and said he was “disappointed to hear that further fines are viewed as a solution.”
Cosey-Gay countered the carceral and punitive ideologies behind the proposal, stating that a root cause of violence in Chicago was not guardian neglect but rather structural neglect by government systems. Placing the proposal within the historical context of racist policies and practices layered over decades, he cited the mass closure of public housing followed by the mass closure of public schools as an example of multiple city systems impacting the wellbeing of South Side families of color.
Referencing Chicago’s shrinking Black population, Cosey-Gay noted that this ordinance, if passed, would be one of many that makes Chicago “an unlivable place for many Black families.”
Jennifer Gilbert, a licensed professional counselor and Marquette Park resident, said the fine would place “excess stress on the families” and added that the family counseling mandate could mean a variety of things depending on the therapeutic model, the provider, and number of sessions required.
Access to mental health services is a longstanding issue on the South Side, and Gilbert had questions regarding the family counseling mandate. “Are they going to be given resources to attend these sessions? Or is it just going to be ‘yeah you have to attend therapy look it up yourself?’” she said. “There are also sometimes a lack of resources depending on communities.” These remain outstanding questions, as the ordinance proposal does not provide information on how the mandated family counseling policy would be implemented.
Chatham resident and licensed clinical social worker Akilah Baker shared Gilbert’s concerns. While Baker was open to the idea of accountability, she said she had mixed feelings about the proposal. Notably, Baker referred to the fine as a “punishment” and said, “I think it could be traumatizing to the parent especially if it’s a fine that they can’t afford”. Offering her professional expertise as well as her personal experience as a mother, Baker expressed a desire for prevention and separated a preventive approach from the proposal’s mandates, “I think that prevention is that they have an option to attend these services” prior to arrest.
Rather than mandating therapy after harm has been caused, a more progressive and preventive approach includes ensuring that mental health resources are affordable and accessible to families prior to interaction with the criminal legal system. Baker also spoke about the ways structural racism would influence the implementation of the ordinance and, ultimately, its impact on families of color. She said she believes racism will play a role because of the discretion police officers have over whether to arrest youth for the targeted charges. “I think that sometimes Black and brown people are treated [more] harshly than people who are not,” she said. “Whereas [white] people may be given just a warning, I believe that Black and brown people will probably get hit with a fine quicker.”
Compared to state-level reforms that remove mechanisms of racial and economic exploitation in the criminal legal system, Cosey-Gay described Lopez’s proposal as a step back. “I think what the state is doing is promising, and also the Biden administration is now looking at a larger investment in prevention instead of continuing to dump money into policing,” he said.
Rather than instituting regressive fees and expanding the legal system, Cosey-Gay stressed the importance of funding community-driven coalitions, and in particular, funding community-driven infrastructures as opposed to single, standalone programs. Within this Cosey-Gay cited research that demonstrated “the power of collective impact programs, doing work that is community-driven, doing work that is directed at those that are the highest risk [for causing harm].”
This work is part of what he described as looking “further upstream at the root causes. Fining and locking up families or locking up youth or arresting them is essentially contributing to more pain, more hurt.”
Though he called the ordinance proposal “disappointing,” Cosey-Gay said he remains proud of Chicago. “I’ve been proud of the grassroots activism that’s happening,” he said. “I’m proud that there are new offices of equity and racial justice in the city for the first time ever.”
Instead of investing political energy and time into the current ordinance proposal, Cosey-Gay said that the “emphasis should be on racial justice, on social justice, and equity.”
Samantha Guz is a social worker and PhD student at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. Durrell Malik Washington Sr. is a PhD Student at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. This is their first story for the Weekly.