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Chicago, IL - Members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus (ILBC) are calling for people to stop damaging buildings and businesses across the state following nights of unrest. Lawmakers spoke at the recently looted Grand Boulevard Plaza in Chicago. Their hope is to bring peace and strength back to local communities during this time of crisis.
"It wasn't just George [Floyd] who lost his life; it was so many others. We have some work to do in this area," said Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Oak Park).
Lilly is the House Chair of the ILBC. She says we should listen to young people and "work together to build infrastructure in the black community."
"The events that have taken place over this recent weekend have been just as hurtful or even more as the virus that has plagued our communities the last couple of months," said Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago).
The Englewood resident is surveying damage and helping to clean up with residents and business owners across her district. She says millions are demonstrating across the country to remember George Floyd. Harper says many feel there is no excuse for looting and rioting, but she says there are many excuses.
Calling for new policies
"Systematic racism and killing of unarmed black men, women and children in our society at the hands of police, and nothing being done about it on a large collaborative scale with real results is an excuse," Harper explained.
She adds generations of segregation and red-lighting policies are also an excuses. The COVID-19 pandemic has only expanded disparities across minority communities. However, the lawmakers don't condone looting.
"We hear you young people when you say you feel as though you are not free. Over-policing and the call for the militarization of our neighborhoods is not the answer and frightens our neighbors," said Harper.
Caucus members want their constituents to help clean up and continue taking a stand against police violence by calling for new policies. However, they also want other lawmakers to step up.
"I want my colleagues - white, gay, Latino, Northside, suburban, Naperville, Downstate, Western Illinois - to stand with the Black Caucus and work with us to advance the things that are necessary to restore our community," said Rep. Marcus Evans Jr. (D-Chicago).
Restoring black communities
Evans says Gov. JB Pritzker should continue to prioritize resources to restore black communities. Rep. Lamont Robinson Jr. (D-Chicago) says he saw no police presence in his district despite calls for help. His insurance business hasn't been looted, but many others surrounding him are suffering today. “I worked hard with my fellow entrepreneurs to build a commercial strip worthy of our customers,” Robinson said. “Now we must figure out how to rebuild from this devastation.”
He notes it may take weeks to know the total amount of businesses impacted by looting. Robinson says most of the damage occurred in areas of Chicago with the least resources. "We do not accept burned out storefronts and looted shops will be the monument to George Floyd. To rebuild, we need lenders to make sure capital is available. We need the programs and services of our state and local governments laser-focused on returning these businesses to viability for the sake of our communities.”
Robinson says every community should receive the same resources in order to rebuild from the devastation. Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) says he is hearing the voices of many constituents calling out for help. Though, he admits "there is no one bill that will cure all the ills we are facing." He says the Caucus has made Illinois a model for the nation in criminal justice reform. Illinois has authorized body cameras, banned the use of chokeholds, removed barriers to unemployment, and recently expunged records for thousands of non-violent offenders.
"We will continue to work to reform our state criminal justice system, which has far too often criminalized poverty, mental illness and substance abuse, as opposed to addressing the underlying challenges of years of chronic disinvestment, and the byproduct of the policies of benign neglect.”
"Activism is critical"
Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Pritzker joined Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other community leaders to address recent protests. Pritzker says he doesn't pretend to know the pain of Black America, but he knows so many people are overwhelmed with rage, passion and sorrow. He stresses local and state leadership is important moving forward. Pritzker says community activism, peaceful organizing and faith must show the way.
"We must allow people room to process the grief and to heal so that we can all sustain our resolve for change," Pritzker said.
The governor says he supports protesters trying to spread the message for others to act for justice moving forward. "Activism is critical - and it will take activism plus action to build ourselves into the state, into the nation, that we must strive to become." Pritzker says longstanding systems won't shift on their own and structural change is needed. Like the Caucus, he is calling for police reform and sustained economic investment in black and brown communities across the state.
Pritzker also denounces the looting and crime in metro areas across the state. He says the recent attacks on small businesses already struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic are heartbreaking. "Many of them spent money to get ready to reopen. Now their windows are broken, their inventories are gone and in some cases, small businesses may not come back," Pritzker emphasized.