Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Racial Equity Week

Cook County’s second annual Racial Equity Week began Monday. This year’s theme, “Cook County Past, Present and Future” focuses on acknowledging past harm, its impact today and a vision for the future.

It comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disproportionately affect Black and Latino residents. And as the now-shortened deadline for the census draws near.

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“I think in this moment in time, after the murder of George Floyd by police officers, after the clear, disparate impact of this pandemic on Black and Brown communities as opposed to majority communities, it’s important that we look at the challenges we face in this country through an equity lens,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Monday on “Chicago Tonight.”

This year, Cook County hired its first director of equity and inclusion, Denise Barreto.

“It’s only in my lifetime that the right of African Americans have been guaranteed the right to vote, by the Voting Rights Act. That public accommodations have been open to all Americans regardless of race,” Preckwinkle said. “We have some real challenges in this country. I think we’ve made, as a history teacher, tremendous progress, but we have a long way to go.”

Racism is still endemic in this country, she said. 

“Nowhere is that more evident than our relationships between police and community,” Preckwinkle said. “I’ve always said that Black and Brown people in this country can be murdered by the police with impunity.”  

Preckwinkle kicked off both Racial Equity Week and Census Action Week at the Complete Count Census Commission of Cook County meeting. The census response rate is 70% in Illinois, about 65.9% in Cook County and 59% in Chicago, though in some neighborhoods the rate is as low as 30%

“Participation in the census is your civic duty. We’ve been having a census in this country since 1790,” Preckwinkle said. “When people are not counted, their communities lose out on federal resources.”

Meanwhile, the Cook County Democratic Party voted not to endorse Cook County Judge Michael Toomin on Monday. Toomin is the special prosecutor who investigated the handling of the Jussie Smollett case by the office of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. While the committee cited Toomin’s record in overseeing the juvenile justice division — and not the high-profile Smollett case — some say it appears to be retaliation. 

“I am deeply concerned, and I expressed my concern to a number of people that were going to participate in the vote today, that the optics of this are terrible,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday. “It looks like retaliation. This is not something that we should have, not in this time and I’m deeply concerned about it.”

However, Preckwinkle said the vote was a result of a negative bar rating and a comprehensive investigation.

“This is about judicial accountability, it’s not about optics,” Preckwinkle said. “In the case of Judge Toomin, lawyers, advocates were consulted and the advocacy community in particular was virtually unanimous in its opinion that he was the wrong person to be leading our juvenile justice system.”

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