As National Conversation Returns to Police Brutality, Black Lawmakers Demand Meaningful Change

A protester faces off against police in Chicago on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (Hugo Balta / WTTW News)A protester faces off against police in Chicago on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (Hugo Balta / WTTW News)

Black elected officials are demanding transformational change in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the attention it has brought to police brutality and systemic racism, and they’re demanding the state provide money to back it up – at least a billion dollars.   

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And Gov. J.B. Pritkzer is on notice to help come up with the money.

“With the help of our governor, because black lives matter, we have some demands. And our governor’s going to help us deliver those demands, all right?” said state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, whose district covers Maywood where the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus hosted a day of action Sunday – it’s fourth and final such event; previous days of action were held recently on the South and West sides of Chicago and in south suburban Calumet City.

“Our demand, governor, is for real police accountability. Our demand, governor, is for a billion dollars of investment right here in our community. That’s how we’re going to correct the wrongs of the past,” Welch said. “In every black community. Our demand is for a billion dollars in every black community, ‘cause black lives matter.”

Pritzker was just behind Welch, and while he made no firm commitments about specific amounts when it was his turn to take the microphone, he hinted at coming through with the funding.

“There is no justice without police accountability. There is no justice without criminal justice reform. And this is the big one: There is no justice without, without reversing the disinvestment, and instead making significant investments, in our black communities — here on the West Side, on the west suburbs, all across the state of Illinois, East St. Louis,” Pritzker said. “We have a history here in the state of Illinois that we should be proud of. And that we that should lead us into the future. We were the first state, the first state, to support the 13th Amendment ending slavery in this country. We were the first state to support the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, thank God. And this will be the first state that truly addresses the injustice and the disinvestment in black communities and in black families.”

The roughly $40 billion budget legislators approved in late May relies on $5 billion in federal borrowing, after what’s considered systemic fiscal mismanagement coupled with the blows of another watershed event: the coronavirus pandemic.

Pritzker has yet to sign the spending plan into law, though he did just sign a few other measures approved during the General Assembly’s abridged special session.

In January, the governor announced that ending cash bail and reducing mandatory prison sentences and low-level drug sentencing would be at the top of his agenda for the 2020 session.

But he made no real headway on that agenda.

Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic struck in mid-March just when legislators would typically have begun to seriously debate such proposals.

Other waylaid efforts were geared toward correcting issues with revoked Firearm Owners Identification Cards brought to light after a 2019 mass shooting in suburban Aurora, fixes to Illinois’ clean energy package, and ethics reforms given that two legislators resigned after pleading guilty to charges for separate corruption schemes.

“I’m tired of the crumbs. I want the slice. I want half the pie. Governor, we need a slice. I don’t want crumbs. We need a slice. We want the pie,” said state Sen. Kim Lightford, who just resigned as the Senate chair of the Black Caucus and is the first African American woman to serve as Senate majority leader.

Lightford said her grandparents moved to Chicago from the south and “racism followed them.”

Sunday’s event was held at the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center, named after the former Maywood NAACP and Black Panther Illinois chairman assassinated by law enforcement in a 1969 FBI raid.

When she first became a state senator, Lightford said she fought to get state money to restore the pool, and was labeled an “angry black woman.”

“I’ve been that angry black woman for 21 years, 22 in November, and I’m not going to stop being that angry black woman until we have access,” she said. “Institutional racism is institutional racism, sexism is sexism … Don’t give up, don’t give out, don’t give in, don’t get oppressed, don’t stop fighting, because they will put you in a corner.”

Lightford said “when you stop fighting” things happen, like the closure of 50 Chicago Public Schools.

“What I can continue to do is be earnest, and be honest and call racism as it is. And there’s quite a few of my own colleagues over the years who have stopped us from getting things done for our community,” she said.

She mentioned perpetual debates in Springfield over issues such as gun control: legislators from the southern part of the state are generally reticent to restrict access to firearms, citing the Second Amendment, guns for protection and guns used for hobby and hunting.

“Well we’re hunting people up this way, that’s what’s happening to us,” she said. “And as long as we can’t see eye to eye, or agree or sit down at the same table, we’ll never get anywhere. So I’m just pleading at this point to my colleagues in the legislature, when you see that black agenda get put on the table before you, we need you to embrace our black agenda. We need you to get behind our black agenda, we need you to help us push our black agenda.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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