SPRINGFIELD — The “structural change” demanded by protestors around Illinois will come from nonviolent demonstrations coupled with policy reforms, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday.
Speaking at a blended-income housing development in Chicago called KLEO Art Residences, the governor said “community activism and peaceful organizing and faith” are the keys to “real” transformations demanded after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after being pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.
“I do not pretend to know the pain that’s experienced by black America, the pain of knowing that what happened to George Floyd could happen to you or to your child,” Pritzker said. “But I do know that at this moment, so many people are overwhelmed here in the state of Illinois with rage and with passion and with sorrow.”
The governor’s recommendations for necessary changes include law enforcement reforms with “genuine investigations, transparency and accountability;” ensuring the “justice” in criminal justice “means something;” and making “sustained economic investment” in all black and brown Illinois communities.
He denounced the violence, looting and crime occurring in cities and towns across the state, calling attacks on small businesses already experiencing economic hardships from months of closure due to the novel coronavirus “heartbreaking.”
“I mean, just at the moment where they’re reopening — many of them spent money to get ready to reopen — now their windows are broken, their inventories are gone and in some cases, small businesses may not come back,” Pritzker said. “ …We needed to rebuild before this took place. Now, we have to make double the effort.”
More than $50 million in aid funding exists for local organizations and small businesses through the Chicago and Illinois COVID-19 response funds, the governor estimated. He is also courting private donations.
And the General Assembly approved on May 23 additional financial assistance for small businesses — “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Pritzker said — in the state budget. It is awaiting the governor’s signature.
“We have lost revenues in our state, and we need to rebuild those coffers in order for us to deliver the services on the ground that people need and the support small businesses need,” he said.
The inclusion of dollars to assist entrepreneurs, and to restore jobs their businesses represent, is indicative of the state’s values, Pritzker said.
“The last five days have at least demonstrated to everyone who wasn’t paying attention already that we have systemic racism that also has to be addressed in the state budget,” he said. “ …This last budget does express (Illinois’) values, but over the last five days, I think it’s been brought to the fore that our communities, our black and brown communities that have been neglected, are the ones that we need to focus on.”
The governor did not directly answer a reporter’s question about whether he would call a special legislative session to address requested reforms in the wake of Floyd’s death.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Pritzker said, he was “reluctant” to do so due to the risk many lawmakers would not show up if they did not agree there was a need for such a gathering. It is “encouraging,” he added, that the legislature proved it could conduct its business in a safe way.
“I will say this, that what’s very important to me is we establish an agenda, an agenda that’s led in part by the very peaceful protestors that are out on the streets, that were there protesting last night, the night before and the night before — the folks who were there with legitimate grievances,” the governor said.
He is “in favor” of statewide changes addressing residents’ concerns as well as those that can be implemented in Chicago and other municipalities.
Pritzker also addressed his activation of an additional 250 National Guardsmen to supplement law enforcement departments in select cities, including Chicago, Aurora and Naperville.
“Look, we reacted to the request by the Chicago Police Department as well as some other places around the state to provide backup, to provide support,” he said. “ …I realize there have been challenges over the last number of nights. I think there’s been some learning that’s taken place.”
Illinoisans should remember, the governor added, that National Guardsmen are “a highly trained force” that is “trained to go to war” and receive much the same education soldiers do.
“I reject the notion that the National Guard are not well trained. They’re simply not trained as front-line police officers,” he said.