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State Lawmakers Respond to Protests, Offer Plans For Change

Sam Dunklau, via Welch & Buckner Twitter pages
NPR Illinois 91.9 FM
Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch (left) and Rep. Kam Buckner have offered plans to address systemic racism and police brutality as protests have erupted across the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man.

As outrage and protest against police brutality and racial injustice has spilled into the streets of cities across the country, several Black Illinois state lawmakers are offering their plans for how to fix those problems.

There’s State Rep. Kam Buckner (D, Chicago). He has a billhe plans to re-introduce that would require Illinois circuit courts to appoint a special prosecutor to look into any case that involves a police officer killing someone, bringing charges against that officer if necessary. It had been assigned to a legislative committee early this year but did not advance.

"This angst and this anger is built on years and years of mistrust," Buckner said. "This is just my attempt to gain back and recreate some trust to figure out how we move forward in this world where everyone is on edge."

Buckner, who himself has a jurisdoctorate degree from DePaul University, argues appointing a special prosecutor would keep a local prosecutor from having to make difficult decisions in cases involving other law enforcement officials. 

"In most cases prosecutors try as hard as they can to be fair and unbiased, it's an oath that we take as members of the bar," the Chicago Democrat said. "But I do realize it's difficult to do so, and so my bill is attempting to remove one of those roadblocks, to not even put them in a situation where they need to make those decisions."

In a message to the Capitol Fax blog, State Rep. Chris Welch (D, Hillside) offered a laundry list of ideas: things like reforming the way black communities access education, healthcare, and housing, and ensuring black businesses receive COVID-19 relief grants.

"The police violence, the disproportionate numbers of African Americans dying of the COVID 19, and the economic devastation in Black communities during this economic crisis are a poisonous stew. Can we finally address some of the underlying issues? Is this the moment?" Welch wrote.

Other state lawmakers of both political parties said they support those who have peacefully protested, but condemn those who have damaged or destroyed property.

"I support the right of Americans to demonstrate and protest peacefully, but I unequivocally reject the notion that rioting and looting in our communities is an acceptable response to Floyd’s death," State Senator Jim Oberweis (R, Sugar Grove) said in a statement Monday. "Innocent people are getting hurt and innocent lives are being destroyed."

"I support the right to protest and call for changes to end to the systemic racism keeping us from being the best version of ourselves, but to endanger the life, health and economic well-being of our communities is selfish and will not be tolerated," State Senator Elgie Sims (D, Chicago) said in his own statement.

“As we fight tirelessly for justice, I ask that we don’t use lawlessness as a means to do it. I know there is an overwhelming need to be heard and understood," Sims added.

Illinois is one of at least 21 states that have activated its National Guard to help cities maintain order. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, as well as officials from the National Guard and Illinois State Police called for calm during a Monday press conference.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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