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Pritzker, Democrats celebrate monumental criminal justice law while GOP, police push back

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. JB Pritzker signed the massive criminal justice reform plan into law Monday alongside sponsors and advocates. Illinois is now the first state to completely abolish cash bail – one of the most noteworthy portions of the law.

House Sponsor Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago) frequently shares a message about change. “It is time that we go from protests to progress. We are going from protests to progress.”

The Safe-T Act passed out of both chambers on the very last day of lame-duck session last month. A dream for the Legislative Black Caucus became reality with Pritzker’s quick action to sign the bill into law.

Pritzker says all Illinoisans will live in a safer and more just state with this law in the books. Of course, that counters claims from many Republicans and law enforcement across the state.

“History will judge how we responded in this moment, which called for big, bold, transformative changes,” said Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago). “This is not a moment for incrementalism, but one for us to reimagine what public safety looks like in this great state.”

The Safe-T act eliminates cash bail in 2023 and redirects people with low-level drug charges into substance abuse programs. Many people recognized significant changes for police, including a requirement for every officer to wear body cameras by 2025. Officers must also follow new statewide standards for use-of-force and de-escalation tactics, among others. Sponsor Robert Peters (D-Chicago) acknowledged how this law could have addressed the officer who shot and killed Chicago teen Laquan McDonald in 2014. He also touched upon the murder of George Floyd.

“We know that public safety isn’t the Jason Van Dykes roaming our streets. Safety isn’t knowing what 8 minutes and 46 seconds means,” Peters added.

Certification process

Law enforcement groups who spoke during hearings throughout the summer agreed “bad actors” have no place in their departments. Attorney General Kwame Raoul went a step further by addressing a process to certify and de-certify officers unfit for service.

“The ability of ILETSB having the ability to decertify takes a major step towards accountability, consistent professionalism and uplifting the reputation of the may hard-working law enforcement officers who do their job the correct way,” Raoul explained.

Sponsors and Raoul remain committed to working with police and Pritzker on a new bill addressing oversight or unintended consequences. Still, Slaughter says the healing for Black Illinoisans starts now.

“400 years of slavery did not break us. It only made us stronger,” Slaughter said. “Together, we picked up the blood-stained banner. And now it’s forward march with criminal justice reform.”

Durkin pushes back

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin says Pritzker’s approval is an insult to first responders, law enforcement and law-abiding citizens. The Western Springs native argued Pritzker must not understand the bill or what it means to the criminal justice system.

“Illinois and its citizens will not be safer because of this bill. We live in a civilized state where our elected officials’ greatest responsibility is the health and safety of Illinois citizens,” Durkin said. “This past year, Chicago has been traumatized with epic acts of violence through murders and car-jackings with no apparent end in sight. At a crucial time when we should coalesce around the good men and women of law enforcement, Governor Pritzker has turned his back on them with his signature on House Bill 3653.”

Pritzker also had a clear message for Republicans and the law enforcement community.

“Opponents of this law don’t want any change, don’t believe there is injustice in the system, and are praying upon fear of change to lie and fearmonger in defense of the status quo,” Pritzker said.

Police: Pritzker punished the profession and hurt citizens

Most portions of the law were introduced by lawmakers several years ago. However, they never received the same support the Black Caucus had last year. Still, a law enforcement coalition says the law punishes “an entire, honorable profession that will hurt law-abiding citizens the most.”

“In signing this bill into law, Governor Pritzker chose to listen to a few political voices rather than the 120,000 petition signing citizens who painfully saw this bill for what it is,” the coalition stated. “Because we are sworn to protect and serve the public, we sincerely hope that we will not be proven right about this new law, that it won’t cause police officers to leave the profession in droves and handcuffs those who remain so they can’t stop crimes against people and property. Please don’t let us measure its dismal failure by the shattered lives it produces.”

Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton noted lawmakers, advocates, and activists fought for many portions of the law for decades. She felt the signing ceremony during Black History Month showed how monumental the reforms are.

“I’ve come to realize that one of the best ways to celebrate Black history is by doing everything we can to protect Black futures. House Bill 3653 aims to do just that,” Stratton said. “You see, the history makers that we celebrate this month did not become Black history makers by standing on the sidelines or by protecting the status quo. They didn’t become Black history makers by giving more weight to the voices of their critics than they did the voices of their communities.”

“Being poor in America is not a crime”

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch released a statement to recognize the historic day for Illinois. The Hillside Democrat said systemic racism has long plagued the criminal justice system. He emphasized racism has been used in perpetuating a system of injustice.

“Today, I am proud to say that our state is taking steps to end that. I applaud Governor Pritzker for swiftly signing this bill into law,” Welch stated. “And I especially applaud my colleagues in the General Assembly who have been working towards this for years. Being Black or Brown in America is not a crime. Being poor in America is not crime. Today our laws will reflect that a bit more. But there’s certainly more to do.”

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Mike Miletich

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