Many of us were sickened by the video of Chicago social worker Anjanette Young, handcuffed and naked, surrounded and harassed by Chicago cops who mistakenly raided her home. After the video sparked public outrage, officers were held accountable and the process leading up to the raid was reviewed.
But it took a graphic video of the police treatment of a totally innocent woman before the police recognized or acknowledged that responsibility and change are needed. Unfortunately, the lesson did not last.
Last week, the Illinois General Assembly approved a modest measure to reform the criminal justice system and establish greater accountability for the police. Since then, the response from the public voices of law enforcement has been predictable and pitiful.
The Chicago Police Union chief – a man who recently defended the actions of the angry mob that attacked the US Capitol in Washington – said the bill “hands the keys” to criminals.
Clever, but wrong.
The head of a national law enforcement organization, in an opinion piece in the Sun Times, argued that the legislation was “rushed through.” He called it “a solution in search of a problem”.
A suburban county sheriff claimed the bill amounted to “dismantling public safety” in Illinois, while other critics shouted that our legislation would “define” the police.
All of these attacks were predictable. And all of them are just plain wrong.
One of the most insulting accusations is that the bill was imposed on law enforcement within hours. It’s a beautiful story, but just that – a story. The bill was the patient result of months of hearings and dialogue with stakeholders, efforts that began last summer after the murder of George Floyd.
The protests and outrage over Mr. Floyd’s murder – and too many other similar events to list – convinced me and my colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus that a change was needed to increase the police accountability throughout Illinois. And we needed to address systemic inequalities in criminal justice.
When the Black Caucus launched the “Pillars of Change” we wanted to see, police and criminal justice reform was at the top of our list. And so we held months of hearings, with dozens of witnesses from law enforcement, academia, state and local governments, and advocacy groups. These hearings – in addition to what we heard from our constituents across the state about the need for change – convinced us that we must act at the earliest opportunity possible, which turned out to be last week.
We have dealt with specific proposals to improve police accountability, and we have welcomed everyone’s suggestions for language to be included in the bill. Everything that ended up in the bill had been discussed and negotiated since June.
So much for an alleged “rush”.
Moreover, details of the legislation belies accusations that the measure is a victory for criminals or will somehow diminish public safety. Among the main elements of the bill are:
· A provision that requires all Illinois police officers to be trained in a standard use of force policy. The provision ensures that all police officers will know the rules for how to interact with the public.
· The lifting of an archaic measure that requires residents of Illinois to sign an affidavit in order to file a complaint against a police officer. The threat of prosecution for filing a complaint if even one material fact is not correct has discouraged many from bringing legitimate charges against officers who abused their authority.
· A measure which ensures that those suspected of a crime have access to the use of a telephone before questioning the police. It is interesting that the police are opposed to this, given that many police unions fought for hours before a police officer could be questioned about excessive use of force.
· A change in approach to criminal justice, from long mandatory sentences to one that allows inmates to be released from sentences when participating in rehabilitation and education programs.
And a move that reforms the cash bail system in Illinois, ensuring that we hold people in remand only because they pose a threat to our communities, not because they are too poor to be released. under caution.
These common sense measures were the result of a hotly contested legislative negotiation. No one got everything they wanted. But for law enforcement to now act as if nothing should have changed is simply unacceptable. And you have to call him.
Justin Slaughter represents the 27e neighborhood in the Illinois home.
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