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Illinois Black caucus sets priorities after looters destroy local businesses

By Patrick Forrest

The members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus held a joint news conference at Wentworth and Garfield to announce priorities following nights of looting of local businesses.

Beginning Saturday, May 30, many people took to the streets, breaking into clothing shops, restaurants and other businesses, following a day of largely peaceful protest calling for police reform after the death last week of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of local police.

“What we are witnessing from many of the protestors is a demand for change—an acknowledgment that the status quo is unacceptable and must end,” State Senator Elgie R. Sims Jr. said. “They are crying out, screaming to be heard and wondering aloud how many more will have to die before we finally recognize the sanctity of Black lives.”

Many of the members who joined the news conference spoke about the importance of the activism and continued activism but decried the ongoing destruction of community businesses that are driving South Side communities further into a lack of resources.

“As we fight tirelessly for justice, I ask that we don’t use lawlessness as a means to do it. I know there is an overwhelming need to be heard and understood. If no one else hears you, I do. I will continue to work relentlessly with leaders on all levels to fix our utterly broken system and hold bad actors accountable,” Sims said. “We can, and we will, achieve change together.”

Those who own businesses in the Wentworth and Garfield strip mall have recalled the moments leading up to crowds overwhelming the area, questioning the purpose of the crowd that emptied out their stores.

“This is your neighborhood. What is this helping? The community that you live in has to rebuild. I am trying to get the strength to continue to stay in my community, but it’s hard when you don’t trust your own people,” Fitness Annex owner Jamaal Burris said. “You’re not here fighting for justice, you are looting for self-gain.”

While looters took to the streets of the South Side Sunday night, a new complaint has been raised due to a lack of police response when called by business owners. Fifth District State Representative Lamont Robinson explained that he sought refuge in his South Side insurance and legislative offices hoping to prevent looting.

“Around the corner from my insurance business and the state representative offices at 51st and Indiana stood a variety of small businesses that serve the neighborhood and now stand gutted,” Robinson said. “We saw no police presence or response despite numerous calls.”

Saying that “We are in a state of emergency,” and that, “Our communities cannot wait to address” systemic failures, three legislators requested “a special emergency legislative session immediately,” in a letter written June 3, 2020 to Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon. Legislators are not scheduled to return to Springfield until November. The letter was signed by Illinois State Representatives Curtis Tarver II, 25th District, Kam Buckner, 26th District, and Lamont Robinson, 5th District.

Legislation to make it easier for people to access police misconduct files, work on “modernizing” the use of force statute and protecting whistleblowers within police departments are additional priorities.

They are also calling for Governor Pritzker to sign an executive order that will free up spending to help rebuild African-American communities around the state in the wake of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the looting.

“We know the Black community has been hit the hardest by COVID-19, the Black community has been hit the hardest by violence, the Black community has been hit the hardest by police brutality and the Black community has been hit the hardest by the recent looting and riots,” State Representative La Shawn Ford said.

The news conference ended with a passionate call for future peace by State Senator and Illinois Legislative Black Caucus joint chair Kimberly Lightford, who made sure to point out that she understood the frustration in the community from those who raged in the streets.

“What we are seeing is pent up anger and frustration and neglect manifest itself in a very ugly way, but pain is ugly, and when people have had enough, it comes out in all forms,” Lightford said at the event.

“But don’t get me wrong, I do not condone destruction of property, especially in our own communities, where you lay your own head.”

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