First District Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, who represents Oak Park and parts of River Forest, has co-sponsored the Justice for Black Lives resolution.

The resolution states the county “shall redirect money from the failed and racist systems of policing, criminalization, and incarceration that have not kept our communities safe, and will instead invest that money in public services not administered by law enforcement that promote community health and safety equitably across the county, but especially in Black and Brown communities most impacted by violence and incarceration.”

Those areas and public services include housing, health care, mental health, restorative justice, job creation, public transit, eviction/foreclosure and minority contracting. 

“This resolution is the first step in a series of measures designed to bring justice, equity and equal protection under the law in the second largest county in the nation,” Johnson said in a joint statement he released with five other co-sponsors of the resolution.  

Although the resolution is largely ceremonial and non-binding, it could nonetheless have an impact on the county’s budget process, Johnson said. 

According to the resolution, “across the country, spending grows on traditional law enforcement and incarceration with no correlation to metrics of success such as clearance rates or sense of safety.

“For example, despite a 50 percent decrease in the number of people incarcerated in the Cook County Jail between 2013 and 2020, the Cook County Department of Corrections budget grew 26 percent over the same time period.”

Around $780 million of the county’s $6.2 billion FY 2020 budget was allocated for the offices of the sheriff ($619 million) and state’s attorney ($161.5 million), according to county data available online. That does not include other areas related to the courts and public safety, such as the money that goes to the circuit court clerk, which is responsible for keeping court records. 

A spokesperson for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office told Injustice Watch, a nonprofit journalism outlet based in Chicago, that the sheriff “has invested in “programs and staff that address mental health, substance abuse disorders, poverty, opioid intervention, prostitution, homelessness, and violence as public health issues rather than just matters for law enforcement to address.”

The resolution, which passed the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ Criminal Justice Committee in June, could come up for a vote at the board’s next regular meeting on July 30. 

An excerpt of from the resolution, which you can find in full at cook-county.legistar.com:

“WHEREAS, throughout the history of the United States, policing, criminalization, and incarceration have been used as tools of violence and retribution against marginalized groups seeking safety, especially Black people; and

“WHEREAS, policing was in part developed as a tool to preserve the institution of slavery in the 1700’s, focusing on chasing down runaway slaves and shutting down slave revolts, grew into a weapon to disrupt labor uprisings in the 1800s,and matured in the 1900s to be used as the single most effective tool in repressing the civil rights movement; and

“WHEREAS, policing has a troubled history in Cook County, most conspicuously visible in the decades-long collaboration by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and members of the judiciary  in prosecutions enabled by disgraced Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his associates’ terrorization, torture, and wrongful conviction of more than 150 Black people over dozens of years, thereby permanently damaging the lives of thousands of accused people, their family members, and Black communities at large …”

“WHEREAS, all actors in the Cook County justice system, from the State’s Attorney’s Office to the Chief Judge, Clerk of the Circuit Court, and Public Defender have no choice but to collaborate with rank and file law enforcement officers that have successfully resisted calls and efforts to acknowledge the inherent racial bias in policing and reduce the violence experienced by Black people, ending all past efforts at reform unsuccessfully […]”-

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