Pritzker and Pearson

Minnie Pearson stands in the background as Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks last week at the UI College of Law Library about HB 3653.

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Our current criminal justice system was not serving us, and it needed to be reformed, if not transformed. The Black and Brown community has been voicing their concerns, sending messages to our elected national, state and local leaders for many years.

I thanked Gov. Pritzker during last week’s news conference at the University of Illinois College of Law for listening to the voices of the people of Illinois. HB 3653 is a huge first step forward for us all. I expressed to Gov. Pritzker and others in attendance that signing legislation transforming the criminal justice system will also bring our state criminal justice system into the 21st century.

HB 3653 expands safety, fairness and justice. These three words mean so much to our communities of color and to those of us who have been advocating for these changes for many years.

Our local NAACP Champaign County Branch is especially pleased that there are dollar amounts included in HB 3653 to address ways to dismantle systemic racism through police training. We as a community must be willing to work on understanding each other’s life experiences.

Our police officers need to be aware that racial disparities have roots in law-and-order political campaigns of the 1960s and ’70s and that racial stereotyping dates to the 19th century.

Studies demonstrate clearly how today’s criminal justice system operates to control African Americans — just as institutions of Jim Crow did in its long history from the 1870s to the mid-1960s. The resulting cost of mass incarceration to the African American community is enormous.

It is going to take mutual respect and understanding the value for human life that all lives matter. We especially emphasize that Black Lives Matter, because unarmed Black men and women are the ones being killed by the police. In order to build trust between the police and the communities of color, our police officers are going to have to change the way they police our communities.

Black wives, husbands and parents should not have to feel unsafe being stopped by the police going to or driving in and around Champaign County. If a stop is warranted, there should be a ticket given, not hurt, harm or loss of life before a person has a chance to appear in court.

We want our police officers to protect and serve all communities fairly, respectfully and equally.

The NAACP, both nationally and locally, is committed to the vital and challenging work of transforming our broken criminal justice system. HB 3653 advocates for smarter, results-based criminal justice policies to keep our communities safe, including treatment for addictions and mental health needs, judicial discretions in sentencing and the end of racial disparities.

We are working in partnership with our local NAACP Champaign County Criminal Justice Committee and the ACLU of Champaign County. We will continue to work with the city governments of Champaign and Urbana, their respective police departments and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department.

The NAACP Champaign County Branch values and commends the enormous amount of time and effort that the Black Caucus, Gov. Pritzker’s constituents and our own Rep. Carol Ammons dedicated to bringing HB 3653 to fruition.

Minnie Pearson is president of the NAACP Champaign County Branch.

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