State leaders emphasize need to reduce violence in Chicago, reform the criminal justice system


Emma Edmund/Daily Senior Staffer

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Pritzker discussed a wide range of topics, including the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

CHICAGO — Governor J.B. Pritzker and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx emphasized the need to end violence and reform the criminal justice system at Axios’ “State of the American City in Chicago” event Wednesday.

Axios executive editor Mike Allen asked the leaders about topics ranging from violence in Chicago to the implications of legalized recreational cannabis.

When asked about recreational cannabis legalization, Pritzker said part of the state’s reasoning behind the new law is to potentially expunge the records of around 700,000 people who were convicted of low-level crimes such as possession or selling of small amounts of the drug. He added the state still needs to be very cautious when rolling out this new legislation.

“What worries me about it is making sure that as we launch it, it’s done in a way that we’re protecting all of our families across the state, we’re protecting the young people in our state, making sure that we’re doing everything we can to have this rolled out in a way that is equitable,” Pritzker said.

When Foxx spoke with Allen, however, her focus surrounded the normalization of violence in Chicago, which she said she experienced while growing up in the city.

After becoming the Cook County State’s Attorney, she said the number one prosecution referred to her office was retail theft. She added she has shifted her office’s priorities toward gun violence, which she said drives the violence seen in the county’s communities.

“Where do you believe your opportunity comes from if you believe that you can be struck down at any point?” Foxx asked. “(The office’s aim of reducing violence) is for the parents who won’t let their children go out to play. When we talk about inequity, you don’t even have the ability to get fresh air, to go play without fear.”

She stressed the need to detach from the traditional “good-guy/bad-guy” narrative used to distinguish people, and instead adopt a view that everyone has the opportunity to grow and change, even with a criminal record.

Eddie Bocanegra also spoke as the senior director of READI Chicago, an organization that connects people highly impacted by gun violence to jobs and cognitive behavioral therapy.He said society also needs to change the way it talks about those who have been in jail.
Bocanegra pointed out that people who have served time are often labeled a “convict” or “convicted felon,” which he said is essentially introducing someone by their greatest embarrassment.

“Those words really overshadow the success or the attempts that people are trying to make to regain their lives,” Bocanegra said.

Bocanegra added businesses should be concerned about the violence rate in the city. He said businesses, especially those that are local, should want to make communities safer and invest in programs that seek to assist people who have been involved in or impacted by extreme problems.

Many residents of Chicago have formerly been incarcerated, he said, but these people also make up a portion of the workforce. Business managers thus need to be competent enough to supervise people who have been exposed to chronic violence and trauma, he said.

“We can’t simply incarcerate our way from this problem,” Bocanegra said.

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