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Torture commission law needs to be strengthened

Changes to the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission should be considered to remove roadblocks hampering its important work.

Gerald Reed speaks to reporters outside Stateville Correctional Center on April 2.
Gerald Reed, whose life sentence was commuted by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, speaks to reporters outside Stateville Correctional Center on April 2. Reed says he was framed for a 1990 double murder by detectives working for disgraced Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

It is imperative that Illinois continues to look at the ugly legacy of police torture and hold our criminal legal system accountable. But former prosecutor Lawrence Hyman’s recent claim that the commission is unconstitutional is not the only threat to the Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, and additional legislation is needed to remove the roadblocks hampering its important work. We must strengthen the TIRC through legislation called the TIRC Amendments.

The TIRC was originally given jurisdiction over cases only involving Jon Burge. In 2016, it was expanded to cover claims of torture occurring within Cook County. Despite Hyman’s claim, this is not a “local law,” since no local body has the authority to enact such legislation. In any case, one proposed TIRC Amendment would expand the TIRC’s jurisdiction to the entire state. Police torture is not limited to Chicago.

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The TIRC Amendments would update the commission in three other key ways:

The legislation removes the standing August 2019 filing deadline. As police torture survivor Gerald Reed put it in a recent video, “I almost missed that window of not filing. How do you put a timeline on something when … some of these guys don’t know how to write, better yet read. And you expect them to be on top of their game when … the system ain’t even on top of theirs?”

The legislation also creates a statutory definition for torture, utilizing the language of the UN Convention Against Torture. For true accountability, Illinois must hold itself to the world’s standard.

Finally, the legislation would require the commission to report to the Illinois General Assembly the resources needed to process a claim within two years of receiving it. This creates a process for appropriations and could go a long way to address the TIRC’s hefty backlog.

Hyman’s challenge is a direct threat to justice that must be treated seriously, but the TIRC’s limited funding and scope also threaten its ability to carry out its responsibilities. These four amendments are sitting in the Illinois Senate right now as Senate Bill 2119.

Corinne Hastings, Rogers Park

COVID card mess

Both the city and county are now mandating that patrons in restaurants, gyms and other venues show their CDC COVID-19 vaccination record card before gaining entry, along with a driver’s license. Those younger than 17 just need the vaccination card, no photo ID.

Now the proprietor has the burden to hire another employee or add to other employees’ duties. Who determines if the card is bona fide? Does he or she call the police if they have suspicions about the card, or the person won’t show a card and won’t leave? Your front- page partial photo showed a card and where it was copied. To copy a card is a simple task for anyone, and young people don’t need a government photo to be verified as the owner of the card.

Wow, is this ever going to be a mess.

Robert W. Dart, Niles