CITY HALL — A powerful Chicago alderman's effort to have any attacks on police officers and firefighters prosecuted as hate crimes is coming under fire by activists and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Referred to as the "Blue Lives Matter" ordinance, it was proposed by Ald. Edward Burke (14th), a former police officer who is considered the dean of the City Council after serving as alderman since 1969.
He submitted the proposal last month, with aldermen who are former Chicago Police officers and firefighters as co-sponsors, including Aldermen Derrick Curtis (18th), Willie Cochran (20th), Christopher Taliaferro (29th), Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st).
Also signing on were Aldermen Matt O'Shea (19th) and Patrick D. Thompson (11th), whose wards are filled with Police and Fire department and other city workers.
It would extend stiff hate crime penalties to offenses committed against current or past police officers, firefighters and emergency technicians, increasing fines from $25-$500 to $500-$2,500. The felony offense would also be subject to a six-month jail term.
"We need to extend to our first responders every possible protection," Burke said when first proposing the ordinance. "Each day police officers and firefighters put their lives on the line to ensure our well-being and security. It is the goal of this ordinance to give prosecutors and judges every tool to punish those who interfere with, or threaten or physically assault, our public safety personnel."
Thomas Ryan, president of the Chicago Fire Department's local union, agreed.
"The job of a first responder is to serve, protect and render aid to citizens in crisis. All too often, these first responders fall victim to physical violence and personal assault," he said. "This ordinance will provide added protection to first responders who risk their lives in service to others while also adding consequences for those who feel compelled to attack them in the performance of their duty."
But on Wednesday, activists called on the alderman to rescind the proposed ordinance.
Immanuel Sodipe, of Black Youth Project 100, called it "an attack on our First Amendment rights," and suggested that any "interactions with police," especially as part of a protest, could lead to a $2,500 fine and jail time.
In a City Hall news conference called by the Bluest Lie Collaborative, an umbrella group including BYP100 and Black Lives Matter Chicago, Sodipe said it would make it harder to "hold Chicago Police officers accountable" for their actions.
Rachel Williams, of BYP100 added that hate crime protections should not be extended to police officers, because they are meant to stiffen penalties for offenses committed against "marginalized" groups typically discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, age, ancestry and sexual orientation.
"Police departments are not a marginalized community," she said, instead suggesting the proposed ordinance would "protect our oppressors."
Camesha Jones of BYP100 said, "This ordinance is a slap in the face for all of us."
Wednesday's City Hall demonstrators said the ordinance would have a chilling effect on free speech and protests against police, especially after the Police Accountability Task Force recently reported that racism remains a problem in the Chicago Police Department.
The American Civil Liberties Union called Burke's proposal "a distraction.
"The title of this ordinance — 'blue lives matter' — appears to be an attempt to shift attention from the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has challenged police abuse," the ACLU said in a statement. "Existing laws appropriately penalize acts of violence against a police officer or other first responder. This proposed ordinance is a distraction from the conversation we need in Chicago about fundamentally reforming the policing system, which has failed the people of the city."
The ACLU urged the City Council to "focus sharply on the very real and pressing problem of how to reform policing in Chicago, including rebuilding the trust between the community and the Police Department. We are in the midst of a grave crisis regarding this trust, and we should be working to ensure that the community knows that police will be held accountable when they act improperly. This is a critical problem that needs addressing now."
Williams also took issue with another recent Burke proposal that would place a five-year statute of limitations on filing charges against an officer.
"What about holding them accountable?" Williams said.
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