Black lawmakers from various levels of government are demanding more investment in black communities in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25. Floyd died at the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, as three other officers looked on.
“I’m tired of taking crumbs,” said state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th), who represents parts of Oak Park and River Forest, during a gathering of elected officials in front of the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center in nearby Maywood on June 7. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also attended the gathering and was standing a few feet away from Lightford.
“Governor, we need a slice!” she said.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), whose district includes part of River Forest, said that slice includes “real police accountability” and for $1 billion to be invested “in every black community.”
The gathering was organized by Welch, Lightford and First District Cook County Commissioner and Austin resident Brandon Johnson, with a few dozen other black elected officials in attendance, including Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, who also lives in Maywood, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton was also in attendance.
The Maywood gathering was one of at least four different gatherings of black elected officials in black communities across the Chicago area.
Lightford, the first African American female Senate Majority Leader in state history, was brought to tears talking about how her political career started as a 27-year-old Maywood trustee whose fight to rehab the Fred Hampton Pool got her labeled “the angry black woman, because I was fighting for what was right for my community,” she said. “And I have been that angry black woman for 21 years and I’m not going to stop!”
Lt. Gov. Stratton channeled the suffering of George Floyd while she outlined the centuries-old battle for equality among blacks.
“Every single system in this country has been built with racism at its core,” Stratton said, adding that blacks don’t want any more “knees on our neck” and “we deserve to breathe.”
In an interview moments after the June 7 rally ended, Senate President Don Harmon (39th), said he thought the black elected officials’ demands were “entirely reasonable.”
“I asked the federal government for $1 billion to invest in the healthcare disparity system early in the year,” Harmon said. “I got flak, but I’m proud of asking for it and even more so now, because it revealed the systemic differences in healthcare depending on who you are and what color your skin is. I’ll stand by that request and double down on it.”
Harmon said that he’s also been in conversation with Attorney General Kwame Raoul on police reform measures.
“I worked with the Attorney General on some of these issues while he was in the Senate and I’ve talked to him since then,” Harmon said. “I think there are real reforms we can take, particularly the practice of district-hopping. That’s when an officer gets in trouble in one district and moves to the next one without consequences. So I’m working with Sen. Lightford [and other senators] to make sure we give voice to that in the Senate.”
State Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (78th) said that she and her black colleagues in the House will “make sure that black issues are addressed” and will “educate and learn from each other about opportunities to make sure that black lives matter.”
During his brief remarks at the June 7 event, Pritzker said that there is “no justice without police accountability,” criminal justice reform and without “making significant investments in our black communities.”
Commissioner Johnson told those gathered to continue their protests (“don’t end your protests, don’t end your rage”), before saying that Pritzker and Stratton have made commitments to black elected officials from across the state to have listening sessions, “so that we can develop policies that will transform lives.”