Chicago Cracks Down With Curfew Chicago Sun Times Columnist Laura Washington talks about the recent initiatives to curb teen violence during the summer months in the Windy City. Critics of the new attempts say the city is creating a police state in "high crime" areas.
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Chicago Cracks Down With Curfew

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Chicago Cracks Down With Curfew

Chicago Cracks Down With Curfew

Chicago Cracks Down With Curfew

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Chicago Sun Times Columnist Laura Washington talks about the recent initiatives to curb teen violence during the summer months in the Windy City. Critics of the new attempts say the city is creating a police state in "high crime" areas.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Crime often spikes in cities during the summer but Chicago is trying to do something about it. The city's anti-crime initiative, Operation Safe Summer, reinforces a curfew law already on the books. That means if you're under 17, you need to be indoors by 10:30 p.m. on weeknights and 11:30 on weekends. Violators risk steep fines. As you heard, things got off to a rocky start with eight gunshot victims in just one day. But authorities insist the measure is good prevention. Critics say it's just too much policing.

For more, we've called in Laura Washington. She's a columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times. Laura, welcome.

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So how is the city going to implement this curfew?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, as you say there's already been laws on the books for many years and this has been tried before, but basically they're going to get - just get tough. They're going to issue citations. Cops in the past would pick up young people in the streets just drive them home. Now, they're not going to just drive them home, they're going to ask their parents to be accountable and they're going to issue fines. It's basically trying to send a message of zero tolerance when it comes to young people being out on the street late at night, especially in this very violent environment.

CHIDEYA: One thing that I've heard critics of curfew laws in general say is, well, if the kids are breaking the law, the curfew law is just another law that they're going to break. So the kids who might be the most aggressive or the most afoul of the law might not care about the law at all.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, the point is that these are kids. These are young people. These are children. There've already been 24 young people - Chicago public school students - who've been killed already this year in violent gun-related attacks because, in many cases, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's another hand of responsibility here and that is the parent. Is asking the parent to keep an eye out on where your children are and be accountable to where your children are. Yes, there are some tough kids out there. There are some tough kids who are going to be incorrigible. But many of the kids that are getting killed out there are innocent or getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time because of gang violence.

CHIDEYA: Have you been able to talk to any parents about their perceptions?

Ms. WASHINGTON: I've heard from parents about this and see a number of parents interviewed about this. And I think you'll get a mixed message here. I think there's a lot of frustration - a lot of people are looking and don't know where to turn for answers. So you'll see all of these is just another panacea that's not going to work. But there's a lot of concern that we've got to do something because of this violence on the street, there's been - they're were marches, there have been protests. And a lot of parents, I think, are willing to give it a chance.

CHIDEYA: So explain exactly how these financial penalties for parents work.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, the financial penalties are basically fines. And here, you run into another problem. This has been tried before. Obviously, if it were that effective, we wouldn't have this continued violence. But these fines are going to be issued against parents, who can accounts for their children. There are exceptions. If a child is on his way to or from work and, of course, if the child is in the company of an adult guardian or a parent, there won't be an issue. But what we're talking about are young people who are out riding the buses in all hours of the day and night, who are in vulnerable places, and the parents are going to be asked to account for that.

CHIDEYA: There's one part of the new initiative that calls for patrol cars to go into high-crime areas on weekends and scan license plates of suspicious cars so, how do they determine what cars are suspicious?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, that's a big question and a lot of civil liberties advocates, I think, rightly so are questioning that. There's been a lot of activity at the police department, cameras on the streets, increased activity in so-called high-crime areas. That has been controversial. The police department is saying that they're going to be checking against their records. You know, obviously, they have a database that shows folks who are wanted, folks who have troubled backgrounds.

But there is a concern that this won't be used - that this tactic will be used indiscriminately. I think the other question is that are police really have time to do that in these high-crime areas? One of the reasons why violence is out of control is because in many cases the police are outnumbered and there are too many guns on the street. So I think I'm pretty skeptical about whether or not that's an effective the policy.

CHIDEYA: And can you tell us a little bit before you go, about how the Chicago police police? Different officers in different cities have different styles. Some are more community policing, some are more vehicle-based, some are more foot patrol, bike patrol. Obviously, Chicago is a huge city so there's probably a mixed. But, what's your sense of the style of the Chicago police?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, there's been a lot of controversy about the style. In high-crime areas, which are - the major area of concern, there's been a concern that cops stop people, frisked people, mess with people first and ask questions later. That if you're a young African-American man or boy on the street, you can't be out anytime of day or night without getting hassled. The police will say, we've got to go in the areas where young African-American men are committing these crimes and we have to focus on that.

Community policing is something that's been invoked here for 15 years now and it has had mixed results. I think in communities where people feel that they have a good relationship with the police, they're willing to come forward and talk - it works. But in many of the cases that we have seen over the last few weeks of young people who have been getting shot, a lot of times, folks don't come forward with information with evidence because they don't trust the police to follow up on it. I think though that the general view is more intelligent, thoughtful, respectful policing is always better than less.

CHIDEYA: Laura, thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Laura Washington is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. She came in to our Chicago bureau.

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