On December 1, 2022 only after ensuring that there were enough votes in the Illinois House of Representatives to pass the latest purported “trailer bill” to the SAFE-T Act, I decided not to vote in favor or against the bill.
I proudly voted in favor of the original SAFE-T Act as part of the Illinois Black Caucus Pillars as well as supported abolishing the cash bail system in Illinois. I stand by those original votes as they reflect decades of work by the Illinois Black Caucus as well as advocates. Those bills reflected and exacted meaningful reform critical to everyone in this state.
Undoubtedly, there were necessary clarifications in the latest 308-page trailer bill that was, yet again, filed less than thirty-six (36) hours before its passage. The bill reflected nearly a year of hard work by my colleagues to respond to the incredible arguments made primarily by Republican elected officials and law enforcement about the SAFE-T Act. Voting against the bill would signal a lack of support for the few positive components tucked within the trailer bill.
To have voted in favor of the bill would have been to betray my consistent stance that I will not vote in favor of any trailer bill that I feel lessens the original purpose, intent and/or effect of the SAFE-T act. There is a very simple test for me. All of law enforcement originally opposed the bill. The bill provided far-reaching and equally necessary transparency, training requirements, the ability to decertify an officer as well as to require the use of body cameras. Each trailer bill was either supported by law enforcement or they were neutral. The only reason for them to ease their stance is because they were able to weaken the original bill.
To have voted in favor of the bill would have been to support those individuals who profess to care about the rights and needs of Black and Brown Illinoisans but at the first site of political pressure are willing to fold. The rights and needs of Black and Brown Illinoisans cannot only be important when wooing us for votes but then discarding us a few weeks later.
Republicans and law enforcement more generally are playing a high-stakes game that overwhelmingly has had and will continue to have adverse, if not fatal results, upon a specific demographic – people who look like me. Somehow we have been sucked into a public debate over the language of the original bill. There were so many lies I do not know where to start. The biggest was that the original bill would require the mass release of individuals who were in jail on January 1, 2023. Fake news permeated the physical and digital world for months. The face of these supposedly violent offenders – you guessed it – they look like me.
Republicans and law enforcement shrewdly and strategically opposed every reasonable measure at reform. Law enforcement has fought against all transparency and training. They publicly fight against these attempts, use fear-mongering as an additional weapon, force new negotiations then claw back the effect of the original SAFE-T Act.
Meanwhile, law enforcement killed a bill that would prevent law enforcement from using deception to coerce the confession of a person with a severe cognitive disability. They collectively prevented a hearing on a bill that would merely allow for an administrative process to determine whether after being convicted of certain types of crimes a member of law enforcement could have their pension stripped. The list of crimes includes first-degree murder as well as aggravated criminal sexual assault of a child. Rather than hold them accountable committee chairs would not even hold hearings to allow them to explain why they should have the ability to murder a person and/or rape a child – yet taxpayers should fund their pension.
Lastly, I also fundamentally believe that a trailer bill should be just that. It should merely clarify the original bill. Several rounds of several hundred pages of trailer bills are not clarifying the original bill. Each trailer bill had subsequent changes rather than clarifications. For example, at least two of the bills provided extensions to law enforcement to purchase and wear body cameras. How could that clarify the original intent of the SAFE-T Act which provided a date by which body cameras were to be worn. What was unclear? One trailer bill extended the date by which a task force would be appointed and their very critical report due. There was nothing unclear about the construction of the task force or the due date of the report. These trailer bills were actually substantive bills that at best winked at if not nodded to the original SAFE-T Act.
I hope in the 103rd General Assembly we do not fall, again, for the hoodwink but rather stay focused on extending the rights of all Illinoisans to be served and protected with the same level of dignity and respect. I am hopeful but given what I have seen and personally experienced I am not optimistic.
Illinois State Rep. Curtis J. Tarver (D-25th)
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December 5, 2022 at 06:11PM