The 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, commonly known as the Crime Bill, is the most comprehensive crime bill passed in American history. The bill provided a massive spike in funding for law enforcement training, prison operations and crime prevention programs. In reality, the bill led to an unprecedented increase in our prison populations through an extreme “three-strikes policy” and severe punishments for non-violent offenders. Recently, presidential candidate and former Vice President Joseph Biden defended his support of the crime bill. Biden made an effort to highlight the “good” areas of the crime bill, such as its assault weapons and “cop-killer” bullets ban. Yet the bill was riddled with regressive legislation, such as financial incentives for states that imposed stricter sentencing laws. Because of its existence, people of my age, my gender and my ethnicity are far more likely to be killed by a bullet, drop out of high school and college, or fall into poverty.
For decades, these misguided policies created and expanded a system that is racist, classist, expensive and ineffective in keeping our communities safe. In our own state of Illinois, our prisons now hold three times as many individuals as they did in 1983. I have seen firsthand how these policies have resulted in targeting, criminalizing and incarcerating our most vulnerable without providing a process of rehabilitation. The system dehumanizes the youth in our communities, tear our families apart, and exacerbates the immense racial and socioeconomic disparities that already exist in our neighborhoods on the southside of Chicago. If it were not for second chances in my own life, the system created by this bill would have landed me in jail rather than running for Congress. This system will require a complete overhaul from local authorities to federal policy. The southside of Chicago deserves better.
In all prisons and juvenile detention centers, restorative justice practices and rehabilitative services need to be implemented.
Cash bail and the predatory practices of targeting poor families must come to an end.
Legalizing marijuana is growing a movement across the country that needs to be the law of the land and along with it requires that existing marijuana sentences be commuted, past marijuana convictions automatically expunged, and a private-public partnership to advance minority representation in the marijuana industry established.
Drug-use should be treated as a public health epidemic not a criminal one.
By banning the box on job applications and asking about criminal record would significantly reduce employment discrimination for the formerly incarcerated who seek to become full participating and productive citizens.
Militarizing our local law enforcement must end. Recently, Trump removed an Obama-era restriction and oversight of the weapons of war the federal government gives to local law enforcement. These military weapons don’t deescalate violent situations, reduce police bias, or improve police-community relations.
Congressman Rush’s apology for voting for the 1994 Crime Bill, should not satisfy those of us who seek criminal justice reform in this country. Too many communities and families affected by this bill and the policing culture that followed it, have been forgotten. In our most recent mayoral election, Rush supported Bill Daley who called for sweeping drone surveillance of black and brown communities. Throughout Daley’s campaign he strongly expressed his support of expanding law enforcement presence in communities of color and low-income areas, which would only further the criminalization of communities still suffering from the Crime Bill. Not only did Rush’s endorsement of Bill Daley show a lack of proximity to this historical issue faced by the First District — it showed his alignment to the same devastating policies he supported over twenty years ago.
It is time to approach solving crime in under-resourced communities of color in a new, more empathetic, way. In fact, it has been time, but we haven’t had the representation we needed to champion new solutions in the First District of Illinois. People who experience poverty and turn to crime are not animals, yet we live in a society that oftentimes treats them as such. In order to truly reduce crime, we have to begin by removing the barriers that cause young people to turn to it in the first place. The Crime Bill has hurt us for far too long, and an apology does not do us any justice. What will bring about justice is reconciliation and repentance. That is what we demand from all members of Congress that voted for the disastrous 1994 Crime Bill.