Governor Rauner, your silence is deafening. As our state’s leader, you shed tears upon seeing the video of LaQuan McDonald’s shooting. We stand together to say the state needs more than your tears. With the recent shootings of Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier, the drumbeat of death continues to shatter the public trust. We need your help easing the emotional pain of an entire community.
Everyone has a responsibility to safeguard the civil rights of all Illinois citizens. We must have the greatest possible confidence in each individual’s access to justice, and we believe only rigorous, independent investigations of law enforcement, oversight and prosecution alike – combined with a genuine commitment to change from state leaders – can restore that faith.
We sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch supporting calls for the Department of Justice to investigate the Chicago Police Department – a federal investigation has since been opened – and asking that the inquiry include both the Independent Police Review Authority and the Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney.
With Senate Bill 1304, which takes effect Jan. 1, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus laid the groundwork to increase accountability and transparency in police policy. Our new law encompasses body cameras, training, appointment of special prosecutors, information sharing to deter hiring of officers dismissed for misconduct and many other landmark reforms.
But more is needed.
While federal investigations help shed light on the culture and practices that allow and tolerate misconduct, we know Tamir Rice died in Cleveland despite an ongoing DOJ investigation. We must not put all our faith in one approach; we must also work to put our own house in order.
As we craft additional criminal justice reform legislation, we need you to join us to build the political will for systemic change. We recognize that the police have a job to do, and we must explore new ways to help them protect the public more effectively and responsibly, whether through greater availability of non-lethal weapons, more extensive training or other resources. Can we count on your support as we raise our voices of outrage at the callous and blatant disregard of Black life at the hands of rogue police who have become the judge, jury and executioner of our constituents?
The fatal shootings of Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd and Ronnie Johnson and the overall increase in shootings of unarmed African-Americans in Chicago eroded the trust that must exist between a community and those sworn to serve and protect. This is not merely a Chicago problem or a string of isolated incidents that current structures can address. Time and again, existing oversight, prosecutorial and leadership structures have proven they are not up to the task.
As legislators, we will work to enact broad and prudent policies that build trust and accountability. As mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, we grieve with the families whose loved ones have been needlessly torn from their arms. And as concerned citizens, we join a multi-racial and inter-generational march forward on the journey to justice.
Come with us, Governor.
State Senator Kimberly A. Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, is an Assistant Majority Leader in the Illinois Senate and chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.