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Aldermen Push Back Against Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Gun Crimes

 Ald. Howard Brookins and Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton discuss the latest Jon Burge settlements before a Finance Committee meeting.
Ald. Howard Brookins and Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton discuss the latest Jon Burge settlements before a Finance Committee meeting.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

DOWNTOWN — Chicago's aldermen won't decide the future of mandatory minimum sentences for gun offenders in Illinois, but that didn't stop several at a City Council meeting Wednesday from speaking out against the policy being pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his top cop.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) initially spoke out against a resolution urging stronger sentencing laws in firearm-related crimes that ultimately passed in City Hall Wednesday.

Brookins spoke against "taking discretion away from judges who are ... able to determine the good guys from the bad guys."

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws would have sent Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) to prison for three years for attempting to board a plane with a gun in Chicago earlier this year, Brookins noted.

Brookins commended Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy's efforts to fight violent crime in his ward and citywide.

"But there are also issues with respect to labeling people," Brookins said. "Who is a gang banger? How long are you a gang banger, and what is the procedure for exiting ... the gang? Who do you write the letter to to say 'I'm no longer a gang banger, so I don't qualify for this extra imposed penalty?'"

Emanuel and McCarthy want a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal gun possession and truth in sentencing for gun crimes in Illinois, meaning that offenders would have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

Ald. Will Burns (4th) responded to Brookins' concerns, first qualifying that both of their wards have problems with gun violence.

"The issue of armed persons without a license to carry, without an FOID card in our communities is a danger and a threat. It needs to be dealt with seriously," he said. "If you don't have a concealed carry license, or an FOID card, the odds are you plan on using that gun on someone in the very near future. That you're not just carrying the gun in the car."

Brookins objected to that point.

"I know people, older gentlemen, older ladies, people who just want to get home to see their grandkids who don't have an FOID card for whatever reason," the alderman said.

"No, they weren't intending to shoot anybody," but their possession charge would be upgraded to "aggravated" for unlicensed possession, Brookins said.

"We have spent countless hours of police hours stopping men, frisking them in a disproportionate rate than our numbers in society, and it's causing such a stigma in the community that our people don't trust the police."

Several members of the public cheered from the audience while Brookins spoke, and one man was quieted by security after voicing his support for the alderman's statements.

Emanuel was not at the City Council meeting while the mandatory minimum debate took place.

"Let's understand: this is not an ordinance, it is a resolution that we are sending to the General
Assembly," said Ald. Ray Suarez (31st). "Hopefully they will take most of the points that are here. I know that it is going to be changed."

Before moving on, several other council members including Ald. James Cappleman (46th) and Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) voiced concerns about how gun-related crimes in their wards should be prosecuted.

"I will support this resolution, but I want this body and others around this state — and everyone holding various offices with various influence — to make sure that when these individuals who are committing these crimes get to the place of dealing with those three years behind bars for whatever it is, we also need to make sure they get rehabilitated," Graham said.

"If they're not being rehabilitated, then we're just continuing this vicious cycle."

The council passed the resolution asking state lawmakers to support tougher gun laws, but did not address the mandatory minimum plan directly.