‘From protest to progress:’ Illinois Black Caucus pushing for sweeping police reform

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus spearheaded sweeping police reform during the lame-duck session that ends Jan. 13. Caucus leaders held a press conference Sunday morning addressing their criminal justice agenda. 

The conference was led by Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood), Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chair and Senate Majority Leader.

Illinois House Bill 163 is up for debate in the lame-duck session, and Lightford sees Amendment II as a way to address systemic racism.

“Personally, I’m doing this as a wife to a black man and as a black mother,” Lightford said. “And for all the black mothers out there who, like me, have far too often feared for our children’s lives and safety simply because they’re black.” 

“This is not about diluting labor unions or CBAs,” Rep. Justin Slaughter, house sponsor, said. “This is about rooting out bad policing and racist policing, and we know that oftentimes the disciplinary process is manipulated to do just that.”

Local law enforcement in Peoria and Tazewell counties said they believe this is a rushed process that needs further discussion involving law enforcement input. Senator Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) believes that’s not the case and says there has been about 30 hours of discussion over House Bill 163 over the course of nine hearings. 

“The narrative that this is rushed, that [law enforcement] has not had time to see these proposals is not true,” Sen. Simms said. 

Multiple reforms are under consideration, but include eliminating cash bail. Anonymous complaints could also be used against officers, eliminating the need for a sworn affidavit. It also eliminates qualified immunity, meaning officers would no longer have blanket protection from civil lawsuits. The full text can be found here

A big complaint from Illinois law enforcement is the high cost of unfunded mandates listed in House Bill 163. However, Illinois lawmakers were ready with rebuttals. House sponsor Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Champaign) said that municipal investigations of law enforcement are very expensive. Her argument is better police training would mean less expensive investigations in the future. 

Senator Simms said that systemic racism has cost the United States $17 trillion over the past 20 years.

Another Illinois Senate Black Caucus Chair, Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) said he wants the state to move away from expensive systems of incarceration and transfer those dollars to the unfunded mandates in the bill. 

“I don’t say the comments that I do to demonize nor vilify law enforcement. This is about ensuring that we have a criminal justice system that works for everyone. No matter what you look like, where you live, or what your zip code is.”

Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower said if passed, eliminating qualified immunity would cause a “mass exodus” of police officers. He argues that it would be harder to recruit new law enforcement officials in an already understaffed field. 

Sen. Simms responded to this complaint, referring it to “fear mongering.”

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