Chicago alderman pushes harsher penalties for crimes committed wearing facemasks



(The Center Square) – With violent crime like robberies sharply on the rise over the past year, a Chicago city council member is sponsoring an ordinance that would mean enhanced penalties for individuals convicted of crimes while wearing masks.

Just four years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic, masks were required by local officials. Illinois’ indoor mask mandate was lifted in February 2022.

Overall, violent crimes were up by nearly 8% over the last year, with robberies, including an influx of coordinated sprees, accounting for more than 37% of all reported incidents. At the same time, arrest rates for such crimes dropped to a five-year low of just 10.8%. Criminals in some of the crimes captured on surveillance video wore masks.

The Democratic National Convention is just weeks away from descending on the city’s downtown area with an expectation of large protests. The convention begins Aug. 19.

Chicago Ald. Raymond Lopez has a proposal to enhance penalties for those wearing masks committing crimes that would apply to both serious crime and minor infractions such as trespassing and blocking the public way.

“Everyone wearing masks while taking over communities is what political extremists want to protect. Not you or your neighbors,” Lopez wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Not all council members are embracing Lopez’s plan as the best course of action.

“It has its merits, but at the same time this is something that’s really going to affect the Black and brown community,” Ald. Chris Taliaferro told The Center Square. “We’re looking at enhancing penalties and enhancing punishment when it comes down to the youth or adults in Black and brown communities.”

City watchdog People’s Fabric raised similar concerns, adding “history has shown us that enhanced penalties like this are always going to be enforced against activists and people of color. The scope of his ordinance is any kind of ‘crime,’ which includes minor violations often weaponized against protesters.”

With his plan calling for 10 days of imprisonment, a $5,000 fine and up to 129 hours of community service on top of the standard penalty for the crime, Lopez touts it as a “common sense” measure, adding only those engaging in wrongdoing need be concerned. The veteran council member adds he plans to seek a hearing on the measure at the City Council’s next public safety committee meeting.

At the same time, Taliaferro, a former CPD detective, openly questions if his colleague is even on the right track to have any chance of turning his words into law.

“I certainly believe that this is something that he needs to be talking to our state legislators about rather than the city council,” he said. “Is he referring to violating a city ordinance while wearing a mask or is he talking about violating the state crime? We don’t handle those issues in the City Council. If he’s looking to elevate a crime based off of aggravated circumstances or wearing a mask, that’s a matter that’s going to go before the General Assembly.”

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