Opportunity is the enemy of violence, and economic oppression is its partner in crime.
We know that in Chicago today, there are more than 30 high schools where the average ACT score is a 14 or 15. This is not the fault of hardworking teachers or the schools themselves. This is the result of a disinvestment in public schools. We are allowing economic oppression to force too many young people into a life of crime, or force families and communities out of our city and state.
We need to re-invest in our public schools, and we need to invest in communities from top to bottom. We need to create job opportunities that are not just entry level jobs or summer jobs. We need to look at areas of pinstripe patronage for areas of opportunity – in everything from streets and sanitation to bond counsel, from lifeguards to the people who invest the state’s money.
In the state of Illinois, you need to have a license to cut hair or paint nails but not to sell guns. That needs to end.
We need to pass a gun dealer licensing bill. Efforts stalled in Illinois’ November 2017 legislative session to advance Senate Bill 1657 in the House. As governor I will move forward with this legislation.
We need to learn from the work underway in New York and even efforts already happening in Chicago to create a state gun-tracing program. We can partner to work in cooperation with other states so we can trace the ownership of all guns that were used in a crime.
We need to close the gun show loophole where people can buy guns at traveling trade shows without having to go through the background checks that gun dealers in the state are required to perform on buyers in their stores.
We need to pass a lethal order of protection to keep guns out of the hands of those in the midst of mental crisis or whose loved ones report concern for their own safety or the safety of others around them.
We need to ban anyone on the terrorist watch list from receiving a FOID card in Illinois and call on President Trump to share the terrorist watch list with the state police immediately. If he won’t, we will demand that he explain why he refuses to do so.
We need to confront the gun train issue. It’s time to put the railroads on notice where train cars full of guns can get left overnight with little security only to be robbed. We need to make it clear to our rail lines that if they operate in a way that threatens public safety, then we will take legal action.
We need to target crime even before it begins.
We can do so much more to identify at-risk youth and divert them from a life of crime. We need to provide our schools with before school, after school, and summer programming to keep kids engaged in productive and developmentally supportive activities that will help them stay out of trouble.
Our ex-offenders provide us with a valuable resource and we should work with them to provide our youth with guidance and learning opportunities.
Bruce Rauner jeopardized funding to support key diversion and community programs – that is unacceptable.
We need to rectify his callous politics-over-people budget cuts and invest in our most vulnerable children and communities.
We need to restore or expand programs where we have seen progress. Programs like Becoming A Man, Redeploy Illinois, and chapters within Ceasefire that have demonstrated good track records for redirecting juvenile and adult offenders. We need to create a dedicated grant program to support a continuum of violence prevention services that are indigenous to the communities where support is needed the most.
We cannot continue to fail to take care of the wounded, even as we fail to stop the wounding.
Just as we try to prevent violence, so too must we acknowledge that it will still occur. We need to be prepared to support victims. Not just in hospitals and with sutures but with mental and emotional health support.
The challenge of trauma is never just physical. For communities disproportionately affected by violence, we need to commit to providing required mental health screenings and counseling services to those who experience violence.
I see an Illinois that goes from being the poster child of gun violence to a model of the modern state.
Our property tax burden keeps our school system from putting in place the staff and programming for the kind of social and emotional learning proven to reach the children who are growing up in communities surrounded by regular violence. We must make sure that there are resources for social and emotional learning in every school, along with hospital and clinical services that are readily available to their families.
Illinois should be a place where people look to, to learn how to heal their own communities. We should support the people in the communities where they are already doing the healing, and try to build on that good work.
In better times, when our violent crime rate was going down instead of going up, we were investing heavily in community policing.
We need to understand that the criminal justice system that we have built is a contributor to the violence in our state.
When budgets got tight, we cut back on the number of police officers and now we don’t have a full-strength force like we did years ago. Estimates vary, but as an example, there are somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 fewer police officers in Chicago than there were a decade ago.
Our officers have legitimate frustrations that the training designed to help them integrate into new and different communities from the ones they grew up in is insufficient. Without adequate training, we breed alienation between the police and the communities they need to help protect.
Our prisons should not simply be about punishment. They should also be about redemption and restorative justice.
We don’t do enough to prepare our incarcerated population to reenter society successfully and not recidivate. It costs $38,268 per year to imprison a single person in Illinois. If we do not address the root causes of recidivism, we’re just kicking the can down the road–dooming people to become repeat offenders, ruining lives, and accumulating greater and unnecessary costs to the state.
It makes no sense to release someone from prison, someone whose life we have controlled 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and not have given them the tools and skills they need to succeed in our communities. Every person who comes out of our prisons should know how to read, have a driver’s license, a state ID, a path to a job, housing, and a bank account.