County Board advances resolution to defund police ‘to take a bold step forward to break the systemic cycle of oppression’

“The critical issue is implementation,” Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “I hope that in the committee, there’ll be a healthy discussion about how we want to redirect resources, and I look forward to that discussion with our commissioners.”

SHARE County Board advances resolution to defund police ‘to take a bold step forward to break the systemic cycle of oppression’
Protesters march outside the Cook County Jail to protest funding of the Chicago Police Department on Thursday.

Protesters march outside the Cook County Jail to protest funding of the Chicago Police Department on Thursday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A day after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle voiced support for defunding police, the County Board on Thursday advanced a measure resolving to “redirect money from the failed and racist systems of policing.”

The resolution introduced by Commissioner Brandon Johnson isn’t expected to result in radical changes to the cash-strapped county’s budget for next year. But it is expected to guide discussions as it advances to the board’s Criminal Justice Committee, amid a growing nationwide push by activists for local governments to shift money away from law enforcement in favor of social services.

“It is time for Cook County government to take a bold step forward to break the systemic cycle of oppression and subjugation of a significant portion of its population,” Johnson said during a virtual board meeting Thursday. “The Justice for Black Lives resolution is a demonstration that the Cook County Board of Commissioners will decisively break the back of residential segregation, inequity, over-policing and disinvestment in predominantly Black communities.”

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson attends a board meeting of the Cook County Forrest Preserve in December.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson attends a board meeting of the Cook County Forrest Preserve in December.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Preckwinkle said she was “grateful to Mr. Johnson for raising the issues that he did, about some of the challenges our country faces in a very impassioned way.

“The critical issue is implementation,” the board president said after the meeting. “I hope that in the committee, there’ll be a healthy discussion about how we want to redirect resources, and I look forward to that discussion with our commissioners.”

A day earlier, Preckwinkle told the Chicago Sun-Times “we have to dramatically reduce the amount we spend on law enforcement.” She tempered that by adding: “I think it doesn’t make sense to think that you can have no police. … The police can’t be an agent for oppression and enforcers of racial inequality. The police have to be public servants.”

Most commissioners spoke in support of Johnson’s resolution before it was unanimously advanced to committee.

Republican Commissioner Sean Morrison was not one of the vocal supporters. He did vote to pass it on to committee, saying he’s happy to discuss law enforcement reform, but he was the lone holdout refusing to sponsor the resolution. The Palos Park Republican said the measure is loaded with “offensive terms” branding officers, judges and prosecutors as racists, and claimed it “feeds the monster,” pandering to a liberal political base.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, pictured at a December 2019 Cook County Forrest Preserve board meeting.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, pictured at a December 2019 Cook County Forrest Preserve board meeting.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

“It’s antagonistic in nature. It’s not meant to solve anything. It’s not a pragmatic idea to form some kind of solution to a problem,” Morrison said after the meeting. “The idea that you would defund law enforcement without a viable option or alternative — I don’t see the logic of it.”

Among other things, the resolution states “Cook County shall redirect money from the failed and racist systems of policing, criminalization, and incarceration that have not kept our communities safe, and will instead invest that money in public services not administered by law enforcement that promote community health and safety equitably across the County, but especially in Black and Brown communities most impacted by violence and incarceration.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle appears at an April 14 news conference.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle appears at an April 14 news conference.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

But as her office prepares a budget for next fiscal year — and faces massive revenue shortfalls due to the coronavirus shutdown — Preckwinkle said there won’t be any radical adjustments to law enforcement funding in the spending plan expected to be released in the weeks ahead.

Preckwinkle previously estimated the pandemic had cost the county $200 million in lost revenue “and that number of course just keeps climbing,” she said Thursday.

“I’m not sure that that budget frankly can reflect some of the concerns that are raised by Commissioner Johnson given this point in time, but we’re going to do the best we can to be responsive,” Preckwinkle said.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Johnson’s resolution.

But Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office released a statement saying the sheriff has “for many years been investing in the types of solutions currently being discussed.”

”Under his leadership, the Sheriff’s Office has poured more resources than any other law enforcement agency in the country into programs and staff that address mental health, substance abuse disorders, poverty, opioid intervention, prostitution intervention, homelessness, and violence as public health issues rather than just matters for law enforcement,” the statement said. “We will continue to expand our investment in innovative, thoughtful alternatives that provide assistance to our most vulnerable citizens.

“The overall budget for the Department of Corrections has been reduced by $42 million and the number of positions has been reduced by more than 600 since 2017.”

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