How Chicago Violated The Constitutional Rights of Black Men

How Chicago Violated The Constitutional Rights of Black Men


Chicago has implemented several laws in a systemic effort to quell gang violence.  One of these laws passed in 1992 was a “gang congregation” ordinance that prohibited loitering together in any public place by two or more people, of whom at least one was a “criminal street gang member.”[1]

The ordinance defined “loitering” as remaining in any one place with no apparent purpose.[2] A police officer who observed a person whom the officer reasonably believed to be a criminal street gang member loitering in a public place with one or more persons was required to order all of the persons to disperse, and any person, regardless of whether the person was a gang member, who disobeyed such a dispersal order was guilty of violating the ordinance.[3] The city cited several justifications for the law: gangs intimidating many law abiding citizens from going out in public and members of gangs establishing control over identifiable areas.

Gangs created a justifiable fear for the safety of persons and property in the area and that “[a]ggressive action is necessary to preserve the city’s streets and other public places so that the public may use such places without fear.”[4] During the years that the laws were implemented, the Chicago Police Department issued 89,000 dispersal orders and arrested over 42,000 people for violating the ordinance.[5]

The law also had several negative impacts as it prevented social workers or family from public interactions with anyone who might be a member of a gang.[6] Another negative impact was that the police were given the discretion to make decisions about who to arrest or convict based on who they thought could be a gang member.[7]

Additionally, gang-related homicides increased during the first two years but decreased during the third year.[8] Furthermore, no causal connection could be drawn that these laws prevented decreased gang violence.[9] Cook County Public Defender, Rita Fry stated regarding Chicago’s Gang Ordinance “thousands of innocents with a police record, a record that can make it more difficult to seek employment, to obtain credit or to access certain benefits.”[10]

Continuing, she adds “the enforcement policy endorsed by the ordinance enhanced the sense of hostility and mistrust between police and young men of color.”[11] This law, which was disproportionately enforced in Chicago’s Black communities and later ruled to be in violation of the constitution, only furthered hindered opportunities for Black social advancement.

The law was viewed as too vague because it prevented law-abiding citizens from being unable to know what conduct the law prohibits and the law gave police “absolute discretion” to decide a loiterer. [12]


[1] CHI., ILL., MUN. CODE § 8-4-015 (June 17, 1992), invalidated by City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41 (1999) (plurality opinion)

[2] Id

[3] Id

[4] Robert Johnson, Race, Law, And Public Policy, 390, (1990).

[5] Petitioner’s Brief at 10, City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41 (1999) (No. 97-1121)

[6] . City of Chicago v. Morales, 687 N.E.2d 53, 57 (Ill. 1997).

[7]  Id

[8] ACLU, Amicus Brief in Chicago V. Morales, Et. Al., (Oct, 1997).

[9] Id

[10] Id

[11] Id


Examining the Constitutional Issues of Chicago’s Gang Congregation Ordinance,

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