LITTLE VILLAGE — As pushback mounts and misinformation spreads about a law to eliminate cash bail, a Democratic state senator paid former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to record a video saying the law “will dramatically improve the lives” of Illinoisans.
He also got the former governor to call Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey “Dare Bear.”
The Pretrial Fairness Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1, ends cash bail in Illinois while allowing a judge to detain someone depending on their criminal charges, or if the judge thinks they pose a danger to the community or thinks they may flee.
The law is a part of a package of sweeping criminal justice reforms passed in 2021 dubbed the Safe-T Act. The law does not, as viral TikTokers have said, create “non-detainable offenses” in Illinois or mean people accused of crimes will be released from jail en masse in 2023.
The video of Blagojevich was commissioned through Cameo and posted by Sen. Robert Peters, a Democrat representing part of Chicago. It is directed at Bailey, who seized upon misinformation about the law, saying “Chicago is living the purge.”
Blagojevich might not have been the most obvious choice for a rebuttal. The ex-governor tweeted this week the Safe-T Act “prevents police officers from arresting trespassers who choose to sit on your front porch or sleep in your back yard.”
But in the video, he praises “the PFA,” which Peters said refers to the Pretrial Fairness Act. The former governor addresses the one-minute video to “Dare Bear” — referring to Bailey, Peters said — and uses his infamous “it’s f–ing golden” line in talking about “the PFA.”
“The PFA will dramatically improve the lives of your friends and family,” Blagojevich said. “This thing, the PFA — well, it’s f–ing golden.”
At a press conference Thursday, Peters did not directly answer questions about whether he made it clear to Blagojevich what PFA stood for.
“You’d think the governor who had an ability to speak [about] this bill would’ve known” that PFA referred to the Pretrial Fairness Act, Peters said.
The tweet the former governor sent about the Safe-T law “was enough for me to say that’s someone who seems like he knows what he’s talking about,” Peters said.
Blagojevich could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Blagojevich also references Bailey’s recent move into the building formerly known as the John Hancock tower in the video.
Bailey said the Safe-T Act will “unleash the purge in neighborhoods all over Illinois” and again called Chicago a “hellhole” in a press conference announcing the move, according to ABC 7.
Viral videos and infographics have spread misinformation about the act and labeled it the “Purge Law,” equating it with the 2013 horror film in which all crimes are legal for a 12-hour period.
“Dare Bear, I hope when you move back home that you don’t look at this journey as a failure but instead as a learning opportunity about life,” Blagojevich said.
The video was commissioned by “Bob Peters” on Cameo, a platform that allows people to buy personalized videos from celebrities.
Blagojevich joined the platform in 2020, days after former President Donald Trump commuted his 14-year prison sentence on charges of corruption. He charges $100-$500 per video as of this week.
Peters has not been in touch with the former governor since the video was posted, he said.
“Our former, corrupt governor seemed to have strong opinions about the Pretrial Fairness Act just a couple days ago,” Peters said. “Clearly, he understands so much what PFA means, and he really showed it today.”
Peters, fellow Democratic legislators and supporters of the Safe-T Act met Thursday to watch bond court hearings at the Cook County Courthouse.
Witnessing court proceedings underscored the need for changes to the pretrial process — and for more action to bring equity to the criminal justice system, advocates said.
“The Safe-T Act will not correct all of the ills of the criminal justice system, but it takes us one step closer to a system that is more just,” said Pastor Charles Straight of the Faith United Methodist Church in south suburban Dolton.
Next steps in reforming the pretrial process could come during the General Assembly’s veto session late this year, as legislators negotiate the Pretrial Fairness Act’s implementation, supporters said.
Peters has an “open-door policy” for law enforcement, Republicans and others who may take issue with the law in its current form to shape its implementation, but only if detractors have those conversations “in good faith,” he said.
“I’ve spent the past 10 days basically watching horrible memes distributed online,” Peters said. “… I’m obviously pretty angry, but let’s see what happens, and hope it’s in good faith.”
Changes to laws after they’re approved by the legislature are common — and necessary — as real-life court cases expose any shortcomings or legal issues, said Mallory Littlejohn, legal director for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.
Littlejohn helped draft the Pretrial Fairness Act by ensuring victims’ constitutional rights continued to be protected under the law, and she’s “really happy with the final product,” Littlejohn told Block Club.
“But there’s always room for growth, and there’s always room to be better,” she said.
“We need to make sure that the integrity and the values behind the bill are maintained, and that the bill is properly implemented,” said Kareem Butler, a pretrial justice fellow with Chicago Appleseed. “That’s really what the next steps will entail … .”
Advocates also called for continued community education about the law’s provisions, in part to combat the misinformation swirling around it.
“The more people that understand that, the more we will be able to move to a society and to a justice system that better addresses the needs of communities, and not just the needs of people who can pay for themselves when they are accused of crime,” Straight said.
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