Youth anti-violence group Good Kids Mad City (GKMC) filed a federal lawsuit seeking to lift the city’s 10 p.m. curfew for minors on Halloween night. The organization filed the suit so that young activists with the group – many are younger than 18 – can safely observe the police and try to keep the peace as they monitor the expected crowds of teenagers who come to 53rd Street every holiday.
But at an Oct. 27 press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown said the curfew is unlikely to apply to the GKMC volunteers, as their actions are protected under the ordinance, which includes a protection for youth out past curfew who are engaged in First Amendment activities.
"There's plenty of opportunity in the ordinance itself for them to do exactly what they're saying they want to do," Lightfoot said. "I'll let the court and the lawyers decide it, but there's nothing that prevents people who are active and engaged (from) staffing events from being out in the city. The curfew ordinance doesn't stop that."
The ordinance, which passed City Council on May 25 of this year, does not apply to minors "participating in, or returning home immediately after, a ticketed or sponsored event and has documentary evidence of their attendance," such as a ticket stub or wristband.
Minors are also protected if they are expressing their constitutional First Amendment rights, including assembly and the freedom of speech.
The lawsuit, however, states, "Despite the existence of a First Amendment affirmative defense, the text of the ordinance provides no guidance for how a CPD officer should evaluate whether a young person is engaging in First Amendment activity.”
Per the ordinance a CPD officer can choose to enforce the curfew if they reasonably believe ‘'that an offense has occurred and that, based on any response and other circumstances, no defense is present.'’
The lawsuit further cites the special order CPD issued after the curfew time was changed, which states that an officer can issue curfew violations when an “officer reasonably believes that an offense has occurred" absent the aforementioned protections for youth who were at events or engaged in First Amendment activities. (A carveout for youth commuting to or from work also exists.)
The GKMC lawsuit argues that the CPD special order does not give officers a clear process for "recognizing, inquiring about, and/or analyzing First Amendment activity."
Activists from GKMC and other organizations like the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights have monitored Halloween in Hyde Park for the past several years. Oct. 31 has seen rowdy crowds of youth come to the neighborhood since 2016. Halloween night in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 saw violence, property damage and arrests; the nights of 2020 and 2021 did not see arrests and were altogether less violent than the previous years.
Alds. Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) began meeting with the police department-wide leadership as well as the local 2nd District, 5101 S. Wentworth Ave., and the University of Chicago Police Department to craft a less-heavy-handed law enforcement response to the youth disorder. Police began wearing, for instance, regular uniforms instead of tactical gear while patrolling in the neighborhood that night.
A key development in the neighborhood has been the "Collabooration" effort that began in 2019 and aims to have Hyde Parkers out in front of their homes so that a good-willed and watchful public presence will defuse chaos before it starts. Its founder, local financial planner Bennie Currie, spoke at the press conference.
"We're building community block-by-block," he said. "We have 25 blocks that we call 'activated' in Hyde Park. People like myself in orange shirts are block-activators, and they will be making sure that our residents are Halloween night are being very hospitable, that they have the lights on."
Currie pointed to the planned increased presence on 53rd itself, acknowledging that many of the youth there on Halloween night are from other South Side neighborhoods who come to Hyde Park because of its relative safety.
Brown said there will be more officers deployed citywide this weekend than in the past. He said that the response in Hyde Park this year will be similarly collaborative, saying, "I will point back to the last couple of years, where we've collaborated with Hyde Park and all the stakeholders (and Collabooration)."
"It cannot be a police-only solution to community safety," he said. "We'll be obviously much more visible and present in collaboration with all those celebrations. We'll be present at the celebrations, where we've been having gatherings, as well as with increased patrols."
"Police cannot resolve community safety alone. We need you," Brown said. "We want everyone to have fun. We want you to enjoy being out. But we also want you to be safe."
After the press conference, Currie said the police do not plan to have a line of patrol cars with blue lights lit up this year and noted that GKMC is partnering with Collabooration this year.
"We're just trying to make sure that we have people doing what we want them to do, to be welcoming and to be giving things to kids and celebrating, creating an atmosphere. And that's really what our focus is," he said. "(Police) told us if something happens, yeah, the blue lights will be on, and I would greatly appreciate that.
"But in terms of how they handle the curfew, that's not really what I'm focused on," Currie said, noting that most youth are out of the neighborhood by 10 p.m. anyway.
The city's online resource with holiday safety tips and activities is chicagohalloweek.org.