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Officials: Cook County’s Justice for Black Lives resolution could have implications for Southland

Wednesday, August 05, 2020
Daily Southtown
by Bill Jones

A Cook County resolution seeking Justice for Black Lives could have notable impacts on the Southland, but not all local officials are in agreement about whether those changes will be for the better.

The resolution received a near-unanimous support July 27 from the county board’s Criminal Justice Committee, with the only dissenting vote cast by Commissioner Sean Morrison, whose 17th District includes all or portions of Orland Park and the Palos area in the southwest suburbs. He again voted when the full county board passed the resolution.

The resolution states that “policing, criminalization and incarceration have been used as tools of violence and retribution against marginalized groups seeking safety, especially Black people,” and that there is a “troubled history” of policing in Cook County.

It also suggests a redirection of funds from policing and incarceration to health and safety services “not administered by law enforcement,” including housing, health care, mental health, restorative justice, job creation and public transit “especially in Black and Brown communities most impacted by violence and incarceration.”

Morrison said on social media he thought the resolution painted all law enforcement as inherently racist, did not do enough to address police misconduct and could jeopardize funding for policing in suburban communities. He also cited violent crime statistics and said now is not the time to “defund” police.Morrison later said he was particularly concerned about unincorporated areas in his district that rely on the county for policing, as well as towns such as Ford Heights, where the Cook County sheriff’s office is the sole law enforcement entity.

“That’s thousands and thousands of homes,” Morrison said. “Many of the villages are the most vulnerable.”

He said county police often provide backup to villages and services for homicides, are involved with SWAT and offer resource officers to some schools.

“There is a tremendous amount of service they do that I think they’re not taking into consideration,” Morrison said.

With Orland and Palos townships serving large populations of unincorporated Cook in the area, Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau said he agrees with Morrison. He said the Orland Park Police Department regularly works with the sheriff’s office.

“I know the important role the sheriff’s office plays in keeping south suburban communities safe,” Pekau said. “This is not a time for politics; instead, Cook County elected officials should be reassessing their decisions and the negative impact these decisions are having on Cook County residents, especially those most vulnerable.”

John Daley
John Daley (John Daley)

But Commissioner John P. Daley, whose 11th District includes all or portions of Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park, said it is less about “defunding” police and more of reinvesting.

He said police did not create housing and mental health problems, but those issues need to be addressed all the same. And work done to provide mental health support, in particular, could be complementary to police services on the street and at the jail.

“How do we get mental health workers out on the scene?” he said is a key question.

All budgets are subject to review when addressing these issues, he said.

Commissioner Donna Miller represents a U-shaped 6th District that begins with portions of Justice and Bridgeview going south to Frankfort and Richton Park, then east to Steger and Sauk Village and up north again to include parts of South Holland and Dolton. She said she hopes the resolution might one day lead to a mental health facility.

“I absolutely want to see a mental health facility in my community,” she said. “I want to see some of these resources come into the communities.”
She said mental health is, in and of itself, not a criminal issue and needs to be addressed as a disease rather than simply incarcerating people as a solution, which “disproportionately affects people of color.”

Miller also said her family has been in Cook County for more than 100 years and has experienced the realities of systemic racism.

“We’re talking about things that have happened historically for decades,” Miller said.

Morrison acknowledged there are problems within law enforcement that need to be addressed.

But “nobody hates a bad cop better than a good cop,” he said, and he thinks the community at large is just as eager to address those issues. That should be done at a federal level, he suggested, with universal training guidelines to help prevent future issues.

Similarly, he said he recognizes a need for more support for housing and mental health services, especially after the state gutted funding for the latter over the course of several governors.
“In most states, these issues are funded by the state,” Morrison said.
He does not think the sheriff’s budget should be used to address the problem, though, and said that if the county were serious about criminal justice reform it would also be looking to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office as well as the courts in addressing reform. Instead, he said this resolution offers no real solutions or direction.

“I don’t sign on to things that are whimsical,” Morrison said.

Miller said it is more than a whim, and that “the numbers don’t lie” when it comes to funding and results. She remains open to new ideas, though.

“It’s an open process,” she said. “And it’s open to discussion.”

Christian Perry, who co-founded the Black Millennial Renaissance in March in an effort to “engage with the moment,” said he is “ecstatic” to see what the county is doing. Perry has said in the past that while federal progress is a good start, problems, particularly with law enforcement, also need to be addressed at a local level.

Perry lived in Palos Heights for six years, starting in 2013, after returning from active duty

in the Navy. While he remains in the Reserves, he attended Trinity Christian College. He said as a Black man in a predominantly white area, he was pulled over several times just months after returning from the service.

“One of the unfortunate side effects of whiteness is for folks to turn a blind eye in communities like this,” he said. “There needs to be a larger conversation going on about these communities.”

He said he is happy a resolution like this is bringing more attention to an issue and it’s particularly important that it calls out increased budgets that have failed to produce increased results.

“It’s kind of hard to run away from the numbers,” he said. “Our values are backwards. We just haven’t been bold enough to reimagine society.”

He said he hopes the resolution is a stepping stone that leads to legislation with money behind the ideas presented.

Matt Walberg, deputy press secretary for the Cook County sheriff’s press office, did not

respond directly to a question on the impact the resolution could have on policing in the southwest suburbs.

“We look forward to continued conversations about our budget,” he said in a statement.

Bill Jones is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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