Harmon and Stratton

Senate President Don Harmon (D-39th) and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton on June 5 in Englewood.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said that calling a special legislative session on police reform is the prerogative of the General Assembly's leaders. On Friday in Englewood, Senate President Don Harmon (D-39th) said that African American and Democratic lawmakers would need to have a set agenda before such a session would be called.

State Reps. Lamont Robinson (D-5th), Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th) and Kam Buckner (D-26th) — the latter two of whom represent Hyde Park-Kenwood in the Illinois House — called for a special session on June 3. Numerous media sources report that House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-22nd) has not commented on whether there should be a special session.

"Before we go back to a special session, we need to know what it is we're going to do," Harmon said at an event planned by Black state and local elected officials. "Passing a law is a lot like building a house: you don't just start slapping two-by-fours and carpenter nails together. You've got to make plans and build a solid foundation."

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, a Kenwood Academy graduate, echoed Harmon, saying she thinks a strong agenda going into any session is necessary.

"These days of action are really to focus on what's happening in Black communities," she said. "We've brought the Black Caucus together to say, 'What do we need to be focusing on? What are the issues that need to be addressed? How many of these issues need to be addressed legislatively, and how many can be addressed otherwise?' I think we need to know the what and the why, and then the how will come forward based upon what the leaders decide to do."

Harmon said he is talking to Senate Democrats and particularly Black senators about an agenda and said he expects to begin holding hearings and meetings soon.

On June 2, Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-27th), who chairs the Judiciary Criminal Committee, said the Black Caucus wants prompt access to police conduct files, public reportage of police disciplinary measures, whistle-blowing protections for officers, repercussions for improper use of body cameras, racial sensitivity training, a new use-of-force statute "to clarify threats and to prioritize preserving life” and mandated access to phone calls for counsel for detainees when incarcerated in police stations.

Like Harmon, Slaughter said subject matter hearings are a possibility over the summer.

Local state Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) said he understands that calling a special session is dependent on there being the votes necessary to pass reforms. But he said reform is on the way.

"No matter what, whether it is a special session or not, we're going to work the votes to be able to get the police reform that we need," he said. "I've had conversations with the Senate President and made it clear, and I'm going to continue making it clear that I want to see real civilian oversight, real police accountability. That's not much of a state (issue), but I think it's something to look into. We need to dig in deep on police militarization."

This week, Tarver has called for action on his bill to deny police officers their pensions if they are convicted of a felony. Tarver and Peters are talking about opening private police departments like the University of Chicago's to public records request, and Buckner has touted his bill which would appoint a special prosecutor in any case where a police officer kills somebody.

But Peters said agenda needs to go beyond mere police reform.

"The criminal justice system needs reform as well as the fact that we need economic development. We need investment in our communities," he said. "We talk about the looting, but the story really isn't about the looting. The story is about this crisis, and this crisis is the why, the what and the how. It goes back to the fact that George Floyd as a person was laid-off, and he was pulled over for possibly having a counterfeit $20 bill and had the life squeezed out of him by a White cop with his knee on his neck."

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