In the violent city of Chicago, on the day news broke of a Chicago alderman beaten to the ground by unidentified thugs outside a downtown bar, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a “criminal justice reform” bill that will make Illinois the first state to do away entirely with cash bail.
And the governor of the worst-run state in the nation called critics of the bill fearmongers and liars.
The law opens the door for violent arrestees to quickly return to their neighborhoods, and perhaps run into witnesses, as if by coincidence. And it will allow anonymous complaints to be filed against police officers to be used in disciplinary hearings.
It will also radically change law enforcement procedures in the apprehension of suspects.
The huge 700-page bill has some worthy elements, including mandating police body cameras. But it was rushed through the legislature in the middle of the night by Democrats with no meaningful debate on the complicated issues. And virtually every law enforcement and prosecutor group in Illinois is worried about the impact on residents, crime victims, witnesses, cops and the courts.
These are the fearmongers now, according to the social justice warriors who control Illinois policy.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said, “Those who engage in fearmongering rhetoric” should realize “this legislation is just the starting point.”
The starting point of what? The line in front of the U-Haul rental store?
Pritzker said critics “don’t want any change, don’t believe there is injustice in the system and are preying upon fear of change to lie and fearmonger in defense of the status quo.”
I decided to call someone who has much more experience than Pritzker or Foxx in criminal law:
Retired Judge James Brown spent 18 years on the Cook County bench, including nine years in Central Bond Court.
“Fearmongering? Really? As a private citizen now, it sounds to me like ‘shut up and take it,’” Brown told me on Tuesday.
“This takes defund the police to the next level, to defund the criminal justice system,” Brown said. “And it takes almost all the discretion away from judges. I read the Tribune editorial and it’s clear that legislators rushed this bill through without real debate. But this is too important to be rushed through in the middle of the night. We’re talking about public safety and a defendant’s presumption of innocence. It really should have been hashed out, not rushed.”
Remember that violent crime is spiking. Chicago has suffered uncontrollable violence with almost 800 homicides last year, more than 4,000 shootings, and a record number of carjackings.
“The pendulum swings both ways,” Brown said, “and I analogize this bill to the Biden Crime Bill in the 1990s, pushed by President Biden when he was in the Senate. In that bill, the political pendulum swung the other way. It was about locking everyone up. Discretion was taken from judges. Someone who never committed a crime in their life was found with 4 kilos in their car, and they were given what amounts to a life sentence. That’s unfair. And who suffered the most? Black and brown people.
“Now the pendulum swings back and to keep someone in jail, a judge now will have to name a specific person or specific group that the man is a danger to. But what about carjacking with a gun? Who’s the next victim? A judge can’t identify the next victim.
“Think about the chilling effect this would have on communities. Witnesses will be terrified to identify a man charged with aggravated battery or attempted murder. The homicide clearance rate is so low now. This will make it worse.”
Some alderman getting roughed up outside a downtown bar makes news. Yet young people — mostly Black and brown — are gunned down in Chicago’s street gang wars on a daily basis. And the city shrugs and forgets them. Their names are washed away in the river of violence.
I’d bet that social justice warrior lawyers could offer compelling arguments against what Judge Brown said. But that’s Brown’s point: Arguments should have been made and publicly considered before the bill was passed. But they just rammed it through.
The bill barely made it out of the House, hours before new members were sworn in. The lawmaker sitting in the parliamentarian chair at the time, Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, paused and waited as the red and green lights flickered on the voting board. The green lights stopped at 58 votes. Then 59 votes. More waiting, like a silent nudge. Then the vote finally got to the bare minimum of 60 and boom. Burke hit the gavel and declared the vote passed.
Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association offered me another scenario: Think of police being called to remove a man they know, with mental health issues, from a store where he’s causing a disturbance.
“Before the bill, I’d say, ‘Here’s your citation. If you don’t leave right now, I’m going to arrest you and take you to jail.’ But under this bill I give him a citation, but I can’t forcibly remove him or take him to jail,” Kaitschuk said. “What does the store owner do if the man insists on sitting there? Nothing.”
Not all the Democrats denounced critics as fearmongers. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and state Sen. Elgie Sims said kinks in the bill could be worked out in subsequent legislation. They sounded more reasonable.
I wonder if Pritzker heard them. He’d seemed so overwhelmed signing the bill with all those different pens.
I watched those soft hands of his putting a careful “J” here and a “B” there, so he could pass the pens as souvenirs.
The no-cash bail bill won’t take effect until after the next election for governor, so he’ll be free to demagogue the issue and call opponents liars and fearmongers.
The victims of crime and frightened witnesses don’t get souvenir pens.
All they get is pain. And nightmares.
Listen to “The Chicago Way” podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — at www.wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/thechicagoway.
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