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On August 15th, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) will hold the 2019 Forum for Safety and Liberation. At this annual event, WCRJ convenes local residents, community leaders and office holders for a public dialogue on how communities can create real safety by divesting from racialized policing and mass incarceration, and committing resources towards achieving a vision of equity, justice and liberation.

The 2019 Forum for Safety and Liberation will be held Thursday, August 15th from 6:00-8:00 pm at the AKArama Community Center, located at 6220 S Ingleside Ave in Chicago.

For decades, communities of color have witnessed an escalation in aggressive police occupation and mass incarceration. Rather than improving security at the local level, such tough on crime approaches have systematically undermined security and opportunity in Black neighborhoods. Moreover, this toxic investment in law enforcement and mass detention diverts public dollars away from critical services, such as childcare, schools, housing, jobs and healthcare, which would more effectively address communities’ most urgent safety needs.

At the 2019 Forum for Safety and Liberation, WCRJ will uproot the false rhetoric of law-and-order policymaking and the pernicious narrative of black criminality.Through grassroots leadership, we will reimagine what safe and free communities can look like, emancipated from police occupation and incarceration. 

After you've registered, take a moment to participate in our Safety and Liberation social media campaign. We're asking community members to help reimagine what safe and free communities can look like when we divest from racialized practices of police abuse and mass incarceration, and reinvest in initiatives that promote unity, strength and opportunity for all.

Here's how you can be part of the #SafetyIs social media campaign:

1. Fill out our #SafetyIs template (or create your own) telling us what REAL safety means to you. You can download the template here.

2. Take a photo holding the completed #SafetyIs template.

3. Share by tweeting or posting to Facebook and/or Instagram with the hashtag #SafetyIs or sending it to us via email.


It was only a matter of months ago that candidate Lori Lightfoot, in her bid to become Chicago's first Black woman mayor, offered a long sought assurance to voters of color across the city; if elected, Lightfoot vowed to dismantle Chicago’s toxic system of racialized law enforcement and promote public safety by addressing the root causes of gun violence through equitable neighborhood investment.


So it came as a rude awakening when, early this week, in a press briefing on gun violence, Mayor Lightfoot adopted a new and decidedly regressive position on community safety. Flanked by Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, the mayor drew an unsubstantiated connection between progressive criminal justice reform and an increase in neighborhood shootings. Lightfoot also called for consideration of more stringent pretrial detention policies at the county level and pointed to enhanced law enforcement and incarceration practices as a viable solution to Chicago’s growing public health crisis.


The mayor’s newly embraced, tough on crime rhetoric, while doubtlessly alarming to communities impacted by racially targeted policing and mass incarceration, is not unfamiliar to Chicagoans. In her recent statements on law enforcement, local constituents could discern echoes of Lightfoot’s predecessor and bygone target of condemnation, former mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Indeed, Lightfoot is only the latest in a long succession of Chicago mayors to adopt a law and order narrative as a means of deflecting accountability for systemic neighborhood inequities away from the failures of city government. Despite the enduring political potency of tough-on-crime posturing, draconian law enforcement tactics have failed in their purported intent to deter crime, and serve to aggravate the symptoms of racialized disinvestment that underpin disparities in neighborhood safety.

Since 2000, the Illinois legislature raised penalties for unlawful gun possession six times, and local police and prosecutors targeted their enforcement efforts on communities of color with laser precision. Aggressive policing and sentencing strategies did not result in a decrease in local gun crime. Rather, the statewide penalty enhancements propelled a threefold increase in the number of inmates incarcerated for weapons charges. The collateral impacts on economic stability in majority-Black neighborhoods have further exacerbated racialized inequality and eroded public safety.

By contrast, progressive reform of the Cook County bail system has proved to be effective in strengthening local communities. In 2017, county courts adopted policies that limit judges’ authority to subject defendants to pretrial detention based on an inability to pay a money bond. As a result, tens of thousands of Chicagoans were permitted to return to their communities while awaiting a court date, which in turn, allowed individuals to maintain employment, housing and parental rights, and improve their sentencing outcomes. According to a report released by Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, only 0.6% of the defendants released pretrial were later charged with a violent offense.

In order to foster communities that are safe and free for all Chicagoans, it is imperative that state and local governments embrace fair, humane and strategic methods of law enforcement, including arrest diversion, restorative justice, pretrial freedom and sentencing reform. Chicago must also undertake dramatic steps to equitably invest in public programs - such as affordable housing, schools, mental health services and safety net initiatives - to counter the structural inequities that foment neighborhood crime.


Last week, Illinois lawmakers closed the spring session on a tone of flagrant self-congratulation for what has been heralded by the fawning statehouse press corp as a series of progressive legislative victories. Meanwhile, in home districts across the state, communities of color are left to reckon with a disheartening array of broken promises on the part of their elected representatives.

In order to fast track the new governor’s politically measured policy agenda, legislators gutted crucial bill language and cast aside dozens of key proposals that would have advanced racial equity and justice in Illinois. The marijuana legalization bill, which now awaits Governor Pritzker’s signature, emerges as perhaps the most tragic of these squandered opportunities.

Early this year, Illinois lawmakers pledged to enact the nation’s most racially equitable cannabis legalization policy as a means to remedy the devastating impacts of the war on drugs, which was waged against communities of color for decades. However, the bill passed by the general assembly last Friday falls disastrously short of this guarantee. Not only does the legislation fail to enact retroactive resentencing for cannabis related offenses or secure equitable access to the industry, it also offers no protections for employees and tenants who lawfully consume marijuana.

The most calamitous blow to Illinois’ marijuana legalization policy, however, was lawmakers’ decision to slash a key statute that provided for the automatic expungement of certain cannabis related convictions. This measure would have removed unnecessary barriers to employment, education and housing for hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans. Succumbing to the outsized political influence of the state and local police unions, as well as the Illinois State's Attorneys Association (ISAA), legislators betrayed the interests of their constituents and replaced the automatic expungement clause with an all but impassible path to justice. The new legislation sets forth a cumbersome plan for individual record clearing that is subject to the approval of the governor, state police, prison review boards and local state’s attorneys. As a result, only a fraction of the nearly 800,000 Illinoisans facing barriers related to low level marijuana convictions will have their records cleared.

In passing the marijuana legalization bill, the numerous concessions lawmakers made on issues related to racial equity were not the result of constituent objections. In fact, criminal justice reform, records expungement and racial equity poll favorably in Illinois. Rather, the devastating rollbacks were undertaken in response to the vocal opposition of politically powerful police unions and the ISAA. These groups have campaigned tirelessly to propagate a flawed theory of public safety that calls for aggressive law enforcement and draconian sentencing practices. This misguided approach has only served to systematically undermine safety and liberation for communities of color. In order to achieve racial equity and justice in Illinois, lawmakers must prioritize the concerns of local constituents over those of well-funded, politically influential interest groups.

With the governor now expected to sign the marijuana legislation in the coming days, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) demands that Pritzker grant a blanket pardon and authorize the automatic expungement of all cannabis related convictions resulting in a Class 4 felony or below.

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