SOUTH SHORE — Black community leaders called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. JB Pritzker and other elected officials to “resist draconian laws” and enact “progressive policies” to transform and save Black lives at a press conference Thursday morning.
With the coronavirus pandemic “decimating” Black communities, leaders offered solutions like the immediate release of Cook County Jail’s high-risk population, the use of vacant Chicago Housing Authority units for Chicago’s homeless and suspending the statewide ban on rent control.
Numerous speakers criticized officials for using the pandemic to increase policing while keeping people in jail despite widespread transmission.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly denied a lawsuit seeking the release or transfer of at-risk detainees from Cook County Jail.
The jail is one of the largest coronavirus clusters in the nation, with more than 400 confirmed cases as of Thursday afternoon. Detainee Jeffrey Pendleton died Sunday from coronavirus complications 10 days after his motion for release was denied.
Charles Thomas, a UChicago student who was reportedly denied a bond release from Cook County Jail despite showing symptoms of COVID-19, is an example of those being “locked up and controlled” rather than receiving necessary care, state Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) said.
On the West Side, police checked IDs at four crime “hotspots” in a move questioned by the ACLU and other civil rights groups.
In regards to housing, Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) called on the CHA to repurpose the vacant properties it has been “sitting on” to give the homeless a safe space to quarantine during the crisis.
“Hotels and YMCAs are great, but that’s putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound,” Taylor said.
Taylor and State Rep. Sonya Harper (D-6th) advocated for lifting the rent control ban and a statewide moratorium on utility shutoffs through the pandemic and up to six months after it ends.
“It’s going to take more than social media memes” to combat the structural racism that has put Black communities at higher risk of death from COVID-19, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said.
“We have legislation that is ready to go now” on housing relief and overhauling the criminal justice system, Johnson said, adding that it’s up to elected officials to use their power to advance it.
“Most of these ideas are not new ideas,” as activists have been fighting long before the pandemic hit, said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana.
“It is unfortunate that it has taken a crisis to bring the impact of these inequalities to the forefront,” Kelley said. “Now is the time to take a fresh look at these ideas and demand our elected leadership … seriously take these demands and proposals into account.”
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