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Cook County Board passes symbolic resolution to shift money from police, jails in wake of ‘defund’ movements

Thursday, July 30, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Alice Yin

The Cook County Board of Commissioners overwhelmingly passed a symbolic resolution Thursday that supports diverting money from policing in the wake of nationwide protests demanding police budgets be defunded.

The Justice for Black Lives resolution says in order to mitigate harm from law enforcement that “historically increased unaccountable violence inflicted on Black and Brown communities,” the county should “redirect funds from policing and incarceration to public services not administered by law enforcement that promote community health and safety equitably.”

Fifteen out of the 17 commissioners signed onto the resolution introduced by Commissioner Brandon Johnson, D-Chicago, with one commissioner voting no and another voting present.

The legislation is nonbinding but could guide deliberations on the upcoming 2021 budget as thousands have taken to Chicago’s streets this summer to rally and march for shifting money from police and jail budgets and reallocating it to social services.

They join movements across America to reimagine law enforcement in response to the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after gasping “I can’t breathe” as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

“What I am most impressed by is the leadership on this board that has made a commitment that we are not going to continue down a pathway of massive incarceration,” Johnson said during Thursday’s meeting. “I am hoping for an unanimous vote on how to move our county in a direction to make sure that we are prioritizing lives, and building them and not building institutions that break Black people in particular.”

The resolution does not specify how much money should be redirected, and the county board does not have control over police departments in municipalities including Chicago, the largest U.S. city that hasn’t promised to move funds away from its policing budget.

But the board does decide the budgets of the courts system and Cook County sheriff’s office, which includes Cook County Jail — another target that Chicago activists have sought to defund.

Neither Mayor Lori Lightfoot nor Gov. J.B. Pritzker have backed the defunding police movement, but Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday reiterated her support for reducing law enforcement funding.

“I’m for reducing and redirecting our investment in law enforcement,” Preckwinkle told reporters after the board meeting. “Systemic racism continues to plague our communities. We’re overpoliced, and there’s a disproportionate number of Black deaths at the hands of the police.”

The sole no vote came from Commissioner Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park. He said he was against the resolution because of its “bombastic” language to “castigate” law enforcement, and noted the Chicago police officers shot earlier in the morning.

Commissioner Frank Aguilar, D-Cicero, reversed course from his support during Monday’s criminal justice committee meeting and voted present because he felt “very uncomfortable” with defunding and that it would be “very dangerous.”

Johnson told his two colleagues they were more offended by his resolution’s language than by the struggles of Black people.

“We are tired of being policed and surveilled,” Johnson said. “That’s a failed system. And I will reject that system to the day that I die.”

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has responded to calls to defund his office by saying he has sought to increase services such as mental health, but further budget slashes would strain those resources.

“People are looking for change. The defunding part of it, I can’t for the life of me think of how that makes any sense,” Dart said Wednesday during a virtual City Club of Chicago speech. “The defund folks, they’re misplaced because I always said, ‘OK, well then what’s your solution? What are you going to do once you defund the police?’ ”

The sheriff’s office already faces a potential $90 million cut to meet a 2021 budget target, tugging it down to $545 million, after county budget officials recalibrated fiscal goals to account for projected shortfalls spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. During a finance committee meeting last week, Dart said he anticipates another 300 personnel cuts to meet the $90 million goal, which he said is “very difficult.”

More than 20% of Cook County’s $6.2 billion budget this year goes toward public safety, the second-highest expenditure following the health fund. That public safety fund includes the sheriff’s office, which in addition to running Cook County Jail polices unincorporated Cook County and fills in for cash-strapped suburban agencies.

Since Dart became sheriff in 2007, his office’s budget has grown by more than one-quarter, adjusted for inflation, despite the jail population dwindling by more than half. However, Dart said he has actually reduced staff by about 800, mostly by cutting the number of deputies and correctional officers, and his office attributed the budget increase to employee benefits being shifted to his finances.

Preckwinkle said the resolution comes at the right time.

“This resolution is set upon a backdrop of national and local protests,” Preckwinkle said. “While these conversations are long overdue, they could not happen during a more pressing moment for our nation.”

Contact

Alice Yin works the overnight shift at the Tribune, responsible for covering whatever breaks. She is a Medill School of Journalism graduate and was a statehouse reporter for the Associated Press in Michigan before being hired last summer by the Sun-Times. Alice likes to explore new restaurants, go jogging and frequent bookshops.


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