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More minorities ticketed for Waukegan plate violations, documents reveal

A vehicle without front license plate parked lot along WashingtStreet  Waukegan. The Waukegan Police TransportatiDivisihas increased enforcement for license

A vehicle without a front license plate parked in a lot along Washington Street in Waukegan. The Waukegan Police Transportation Division has increased enforcement for license plates violators. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Front plates

Under Illinois law, registration plates issued for “a motor vehicle other than a motorcycle, trailer, semitrailer, truck-tractor, apportioned bus or apportioned truck” must have a plate attached to both the front and rear bumper. According to Waukegan police, the penalty for a violation ranges from a fine of $35 if written as a local ordinance compliance ticket to $120 if written as a state statute violation.

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Updated: April 24, 2013 6:07AM

WAUKEGAN — Back on Dec. 17, local activist Chris “Brotha” Blanks addressed the City Council about what he called “hypocritical and unfair enforcement of the law” when it came to issuing tickets for operating a vehicle without a front license plate.

Holding up photos of a Chrysler sedan, Blanks turned to City Clerk Wayne Motley.

“This is a car (that) has no front license plate. As you can see, it is sitting right there in front of the City Council,” Blanks said. “And correct me if I’m wrong — City Clerk, is this not your car, sir?”

When Motley responded in the affirmative, Blanks said, “We can’t have this. It’s not right. ... If you’re not going to hold your own comrade accountable, how are you going to impose such tickets on the citizens of this city?”

Since then, Blanks has spoken to the council about the issue of license-plate tickets five times, including at the most recent meeting on Monday, March 18 — when he again noted that Motley’s car has no front plate.

Motley responded this week when he said that his front plate “was lost or stolen” at some point late last year, and he is currently driving with a temporary plate.

“I applied for a new set of plates, and I should get them on there real soon,” said Motley, who walked out from City Hall to his parking space to show that the temporary tag is valid until May.

Blanks, who founded the Lake County chapter of the National Action Network, has argued before the council that the license-plate tickets are selectively enforced, and he accused the Waukegan Police Department of unfairly targeting minorities for the citations.

According to documents obtained by The News-Sun, Waukegan police issued 25 citations in 2012 for failure to display a vehicle-registration plate or decal. Twenty reports listed the race of the motorist, and 13 were Latino, six were African American and one was white.

In 2011, there were 36 such tickets issued. Again, not all of the reports noted the race of the person cited, but of those mentioned, there were 13 Latinos, four African Americans and three whites. Of the remaining motorists without a race designation, nine had Latino surnames.

After Blanks lodged his complaints in December, Mayor Robert Sabonjian told the council at its Jan. 7 meeting that “we want people in Waukegan to know that this is being enforced equally.” That same day, police officials released a statement announcing that there would be “increased enforcement efforts on motor vehicle equipment violations,with particular emphasis on no front license plate, no rear registration plate light, and license plate cover violations.”

The police missive did not address the allegations of selective enforcement, stating instead that the new focus centered on assisting with investigations.

“In recent weeks the Waukegan Police Department has conducted investigations into various types of crimes where video footage and witness identification played key roles in the investigation,” the statement read. “While reviewing some of these videos and witness statements, it was discovered that if certain vehicles had a front license plate, a rear registration plate light illuminating the license plate, or had not been obstructed by a license plate cover, the investigation could have come to a quicker resolution.”

The increased enforcement was scheduled to begin Feb. 4. According to documents released to The News-Sun this week through a Freedom of Information Act request, there were 15 tickets issued between Feb. 10 and March 9. Of the four reports that included a notation of race, three motorists were African American. Four other ticketed motorists had Latino surnames.

In an e-mailed statement responding to a News-Sun request for comment on Blanks’ allegations, Police Chief Daniel Greathouse said Friday that “the city of Waukegan and the Waukegan Police Department strive to enforce all laws and ordinances uniformly and consistently across the community.”

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