sims lightford 011021SPRINGFIELD – Following two lengthy hearings yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood), State Senator Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), Representative Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), and other prominent criminal justice reform advocates in the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus made their case to the people of Illinois that the Black community can’t wait any longer for real reforms to rid Illinois’ criminal justice system of systemic racism.

“For the sake of our children and their children, we must break the vicious cycle of oppression that has held so many Black Illinoisans back from reaching their full potential,” said Lightford, the chair of the caucus. “Far too often, we have feared for our children’s lives and safety simply because they’re Black. We can no longer accept this as the norm for our community.”

The proposed package – representing one of the four pillars of the caucus’ comprehensive agenda – includes police reforms, violence prevention measures, newly enumerated rights for the incarcerated, and an end to the cash bail system.

“We want to go from protests to progress,” said Slaughter, the measure’s House sponsor. “To reduce violence in our communities, criminal justice reform cannot wait. This has been a 400 year journey that we have been on.”

The legislation was crafted after months of meetings, including more than 30 hours of public hearings.

“These are not new priorities for us. Many of these proposals have been out there for years,” said Sims, the measure’s Senate sponsor. “The time is now to act. We can no longer continue to delay, distract from, and deny the damage that is being done to our communities.”

The entire Black Caucus agenda was born out of the twin tragedies of the widely reported deaths of Black Americans at the hands of the police and the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Black community. However, these calamities are only symptoms of the racist policies that have been built into our systems for generations.

“Cash bail is a tiered system of safety that stands on the intersections of racism, classism, and sexism,” said Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago), a longtime advocate for reforming the cash bail system. “We need to move away from a system that punishes you and puts you in tiers. The time for change is now.”

Though they face pushback, especially from groups representing law enforcement, the Black Caucus remains committed to enacting real change and willing to have frank discussions about how to balance the needs of the Black community and law enforcement.

“I, as a legislator, have never received a single reform recommendation from any policing agency anywhere in the state of Illinois,” said Representative Carol Ammons (D-Champaign), who has long fought to increase the rights of people who have been incarcerated. “And, I’m saying to them that today, we are calling on you to help us stop the murders and wanton traffic stops against Black people in their communities.”

The sponsors of the legislation, House Bill 163, plan to call votes on the legislation before the new General Assembly is inaugurated on Wednesday.