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As public health officials release preliminary details on statewide COVID-19 death rates, a harrowing, yet all too familiar trend has become evident: In communities across Illinois, deep seated systems of racial inequality have disproportionately exposed people of color to the fatal consequences of this historic pandemic. Staggering racial divides in generational wealth, employment opportunity, homeownership rates, and healthcare access account for the fivefold disparity in death rates between Black and White Illinoisans. Similarly, early economic indicators confirm that the COVID-19 crisis will only further exacerbate the abiding structural barriers to financial opportunity that Illinois’ Black workers, business owners, and households have endured for generations.


Despite the projected magnitude of this unprecedented catastrophe and its astoundingly racialized impacts, initial government relief measures have proven to be, not only distressingly modest in scope, but also markedly “color blind.” Over the course of the past century, communities of color have witnessed how purportedly “race neutral” national recovery mobilizations have, in fact, expressly served to advance white prosperity to the exclusion of Black opportunity. Time and again, from the New Deal, to the post-war G.I. bill, to the 2008 financial crisis bailouts, U.S. domestic recovery policies have served to exacerbate racial inequality in every aspect of American society.

The preliminary government response to the COVID-19 pandemic forecasts a comparable trajectory. The national CARES Act falls disastrously short in providing sufficient levels of economic relief to American households, and leaves large populations of disproportionately Black individuals behind altogether. Moreover, by failing to account for the overwhelming institutional barriers Black business owners face in accessing financial credit, the bill’s small business recovery program will only serve to further amplify the nation’s alarming racial wealth gap.

In order to counter the devastating racialized toll that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the health and economic stability of Black communities across Illinois, WCRJ has put forth an assertive COVID-19 response plan that explicitly addresses the most urgent policy priorities of Black Illinoisans in the midst of this public health crisis.


We need your help to ensure that these critical measures are implemented by demanding action from our elected officials.


This past week, as people across the globe confronted the uncharted reality of the coronavirus pandemic, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) assessed the grave challenges that lie ahead, and developed a community centered response strategy. Against the sobering backdrop of this unprecedented health disaster, we will continue our fight for racial justice, reimagining how our society cares for its people and leveraging collective power to achieve a common vision of equity, opportunity, and liberation.

This historic global crisis will test the mettle of our country, and lay bare not only the faulty underpinnings of its unjust institutions, but also the true source of its enduring resilience and strength, which are rooted in our communities. In a moment in which the nation’s chief executive has utterly failed to exhibit the judgement, resolve, and humanity warranted by this deadly pandemic, it is incumbent upon our communities to assume the mantle of leadership.

In the weeks and months to come, WCRJ will be calling on our allies and supporters to join us in confronting this devastating public health catastrophe by advocating for racially and economically just response measures at the national, state, and local levels. As we continue to care for ourselves and our communities by adhering to safe social distancing guidelines, your support of WCRJ’s online advocacy efforts are more vitally needed than ever.

In just under a minute you can send pre-written emails to:

  • Urge Governor Pritzker and Lieutenant Governor Stratton to address the overwhelming threat that COVID-19 poses to the tens of thousands of individuals currently detained in Illinois' prison system

  • Demand that Mayor Lightfoot issue clear directives to the Chicago Police Department to protect the health, safety, and human rights of communities most targeted by the city law enforcement amidst the unfolding coronavirus pandemic

  • Support the Chicago Community Bond Fund’s powerful initiative to decarcerate Cook County jails in the name of public health


Last week the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) introduced two groundbreaking bills into the Illinois Legislature that aim to dismantle the state’s inhumane prison system, and equitably reinvest public resources back into our communities. In order to ensure that these critical measures advance in the General Assembly, WCRJ needs your support!

The SAFER (Securing All Futures for Equitable Reinvestment) Communities Act (HB 5394) offers Illinois a bold new vision of what community safety can look like when we divest from systems that perpetuate racialized structural inequity -- such as prisons and law enforcement -- and reinvest public dollars in initiatives that foster opportunity and justice for all. The measure would implement assertive reform of Illinois’ overly punitive and racially targeted sentencing laws. The public savings resulting from decarceration would directly fund a job creation program designed to spur hiring of applicants with conviction histories.

HB 5010 would amend state sentencing law to abolish extended terms, a draconian facet of Illinois' criminal code, which permits the courts to impose long stretches of additional prison time onto already excessive sentences. By offering judges wide discretionary power to lengthen sentences on the basis of a sweeping array of broadly defined and often subjective “aggravating” factors, extended terms magnify the impact of racial bias in our local court system.

Your voice is vital to the fight for racial justice and liberation in Illinois, and beyond.

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