Sunday, July 23, 2006

Crackdown on fights near schools eased

An interesting storyin today's Sun-Times. There was a legislative proposal that at first prompted charges of legislative overkill. Then the proposal was eased up for various reasons. It all started two months ago...

...after a Canaryville woman told a harrowing story about getting caught in the middle of a gang fight outside Tilden High School.
This was how the proposal used to look...

Two months ago, Balcer convinced the City Council's Police and Education Committees to establish "safe zones" within 1,000 feet of public, private and even nursery schools in Chicago.

Under the new offense of "battery outside a school," prosecutors could have gone around sometimes lenient judges and made their case at administrative hearings, where the bar is lower. If minors were convicted, parents or guardians would have faced fines as high as $1,000 and up to six months in prison.
But there were some questions raised by this. For instance...

Police Committee Chairman Isaac Carothers (29th) was concerned about overburdening foster parents and the growing number of grandmothers struggling to raise their children's children. He wondered aloud whether 11-year-olds could be thrown in jail for school fights that "happen every single day."

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) raised another concern: the "nerd" factor.

"Nerds always get beat up. If it happens within 1,000 feet of a school, are we gonna make them pay a fine? Are nerds gonna be thrown in prison?" he said.
Now the sponsor 11th Ward Ald. Ed Balcer is proposing and eased ordinance...

Parents or guardians of kids caught brawling near schools would get a written warning after the first offense. They would face fines or restitution after the two or more offenses within a 12-month period.

Hearing officers would have the option of sentencing students to 100 hours of community service as an alternative to jail. And those "acting in self-defense" would be permitted to raise that "as an affirmative defense."

"I have children myself. I don't want everyone arrested. If they're being picked on, they're part of a fight and they're defending themselves, they shouldn't be hauled in. And if it's a fistfight that's not gang-related, there should be an alternative" to jail, Balcer said.

Burnett, a self-declared "nerd" who wore wire-rimmed glasses as a kid, said Balcer is "leaning in the right direction" with the new version. "I was concerned about the good kids who may get caught in the middle. I was concerned about innocent bystanders -- kids who are at school when bad kids are doing something. I don't want them getting caught up when police come and arrest everybody," Burnett said.

Carothers said he supports the new version. "I agree with the spirit of the law. I was just concerned about the practical application of it," he said. "He's made changes to make it more palatable. We won't impact the grandmothers and foster parents. We won't hit people who are indigent and can't afford to pay. Community service is a better way to go -- and it helps the community."
The full city council will get to vote on this proposal on Wednesday. The much harsher proposal was never voted on by the city council.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are now moderated because one random commenter chose to get comment happy. What doesn't get published is up to my discretion. Of course moderating policy is subject to change. Thanks!