Local NAACP chapter pushes for criminal justice reforms

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The Westside branch of the NAACP says President Obama’s promise of opportunity for all Americans won’t be realized unless everyone works together to keep our kids in school and communities safe.

The branch recently released a statement that stresses action must be taken to ensure “our youth are safe from gun violence that is a daily reality in many poor communities of color.”

The NAACP Westside branch’s goals include “fighting economic inequities, promoting public health and public safety, ensuring access to quality education for all, ending the war on drugs and promoting sensible gun safety laws.”

This effort must include removing barriers for employment for the over 700,000 Americans who have paid their debt and returned home from prison or jail each year – a talent pool that remains largely untapped.

The Illinois State Conference and Chicago Westside branch’s criminal justice committees of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) express their deep concern that “the violence in our communities has gone on far too long.”

“So little has changed after many meetings to discuss the issue, and even after the deaths of Blair Holt, Derrion Albert, Heaven Sutton, Hadiya Pendleton and so many of our precious gifts who go unnamed but not forgotten by their families and in our neighborhoods.”

Statistics gathered by the NAACP show that in America today, gun violence is the No. One cause of death for young black children and teens.

Between 1963 and 2010, nearly 60,000 black children and teenagers have been killed by guns.

“Will we ever answer the call to act for the changes we need in our communities? It must be now or it may be never.”

“Some of the brightest lights in our community are not just being dimmed, they are being put out! It is high time for less talk and more action.”

The Westside Chicago branch of the NAACP has met with local state lawmakers – including Sen. Kimberly Lightford; and Reps. La Shawn K. Ford, Camille Lilly and Derrick Smith; Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele; and Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown – about what they can do.

Reforms the NAACP are pushing include:

-opposing and combating mandatory minimum laws in Illinois that don’t allow judges the discretion to consider the facts of each case when sentencing defendants who have been found guilty; the answers lie in effective programming that provides increased opportunities, not increased incarceration.

-standing for common sense gun laws and a gun education law in Illinois that prepares our children and youth to live in an environment with guns, but to do so in a culture of safety and not of increased violence.

-supporting the work to protect our youth from the school to prison pipeline as well as those efforts to strengthen public education.

-joining in efforts to increase the minimum wage; we know that working communities make safer neighborhoods and education breeds opportunity.

-continuing to support programs like Redeploy Illinois and the new sealing lLaw in Illinois as well as urging our state legislature to expand criminal records sealing for nonviolent offenders with backgrounds who have not had any convictions in at least the past 10 years, and have proven their rehabilitation, so that they can access jobs, housing, education, and public benefits.

-advocating for efforts to provide mental health services for those in need of them rather than pushing them into the criminal justice system.

-working with officials to improve the justice system at the county level as well, by promoting deferred prosecution programs to ensure that they are being used properly by prosecutors to provide nonviolent defendants with second chances; by advocating for the improvement of the court and corrections systems; and by supporting efforts keep the Cook County Bootcamp Program in operation to assist nonviolent offenders, and standing with programs in our communities that have a proven track record for success to ensure they get the resources they need to help ex-offenders achieve actual re entry into our neighborhoods.

The NAACP is convinced that we are only as strong as “WE” are together and hope that you will be part of this movement at such a time as this.”

“We should be telling our legislators that these are the things our community needs by calling, emailing, faxing, sending letters and visiting their office.”

We also hope that you will join us for the Chicago Westside branch’s NAACP “Know Your Rights & Resources” CommUnity Conference on Saturday, April 12. For more information, please call/text (773) 960-9269.

The Westside branch also holds monthly meetings the first Saturday of the month from 1 to 3 p.m.

Submitted by: Attorney Melissa L Williams, Vera Davis and
Karl A. Brinson of the Chicago Westside branch NAACP.