Thursday, February 23, 2017



Congressman Danny K. Davis is flanked by clergy and civic leaders participating in the planning meeting to organize a Conference on the State of the African American Male in Chicago. (Photo by Isaac Jones)
 By Isaac Jones
    Congressman Danny K. Davis called a planning and strategy meeting for a major conference on the State of the African American Male in Chicago. It was held at New Landmark M.B. Church, 2700 West Wilcox in North Lawndale.
    Statistics presented by the Congressman on the plight of Black men are dismal and clearly define the severity of the crisis:
•    White males in Chicago are 30% more likely to obtain a college degree than Black men.
•    Black males are 5% more likely to drop out of high school than White males.
•    52% of Black males are not in the Chicago labor force.
•    The Black male unemployment rate is 14% higher than the White unemployment rate in Chicago.
•    African American men living below the poverty line is double that of White men in Chicago.
•    20% of Black males in Chicago do not have a high school diploma.
•    In Chicago,
    the African
    American male
    unemployment rate is 21% - more than triple the national average.
•    In 2016, Zip Code 60644 in Austin had the largest number of prisoners released by the Illinois Dept. of Corrections – more than 90% of those were African American males.
•    In 2016, African American males comprised 57% of all persons released by the Illinois Dept. of Corrections.
    Congressman Davis points out that African American males are under-represented in colleges, universities, and the labor force, while being over-represented in the criminal justice system. They are more often both the perpetrators and the victims of violence.
    Davis declared the goals of the State of the African American Male in Chicago Conference are to facilitate dialogue between individuals and organizations addressing the issues affecting African American males to encourage networks improving conditions of these men and boys, and to promote legislation improving the quality of life for African American males. This includes healthcare, education, criminal justice, employment, and civic responsibility.
    Persons interested in becoming part of this planning process are asked to call 773/533-7520.
Congressman Danny K. Davis guides the participants through the grim statistics in planning a major Conference on the State of the African American Male in Chicago to draw up a blueprint for solving the problems. (Photo by Isaac Jones)


    The controversial practice of “policing for profit” in Illinois will come to an end under a massive overhaul of the state’s civil asset forfeiture law sponsored by Senator Don Harmon. Senate Bill 1578 requires more accountability of enforcement agencies that seize property while investigating possible crimes and more transparency on behalf of innocent property owners who want to get their belongings back.
    As currently written, Illinois law incentivizes police agencies and prosecutors to seize cash, cars, land, and other property from people suspected of – but not necessarily charged with or convicted of – criminal activity. The property frequently is forfeited and auctioned off, with proceeds going into the police department coffers.
    “Illinois has allowed a system to take root in which grandparents, for example, can be exploited by the justice system simply because they loaned their only car to a relative whom they didn’t realize had a revoked license. The next thing they know, that relative is in jail, the car is impounded, and they have limited recourse for getting it back,” Harmon explains.
    Critics of the state’s current law cite numerous problems with it. For example, it’s unclear if probable cause is a requirement for police to seize property in Illinois. Even if an owner is never charged or convicted of a crime, law enforcement agencies are not obligated to return property that was seized during an investigation. Further, current state law makes it especially difficult for people to reclaim their property through the court system.
    Senate Bill 1578 would improve the civil asset forfeiture law by doing the following:
 •    Remove all financial incentive for police agencies to seize property.
 •    Require probable cause for a civil asset seizure.
 •    Require the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority to create a searchable public database for seized and forfeited property.
 •    Require an annual accounting of expenditures from asset forfeiture proceeds.
 •    Create a fund where forfeiture proceeds would be deposited for disbursement to organizations for specific purposes, such as mental health and substance abuse services, law enforcement programs or state’s attorneys.
 •    Require a conviction before proceeding with a forfeiture, with limited exceptions.
 •    Require that property be returned within five days if a state’s attorney determines the owner is not responsible for the seizure.
 •    Require an itemized receipt for seized property be given to the owner.
 •    Remove the cash security a person must deposit when petitioning the court for release of the property due to substantial hardship.
    Senator Harmon notes that Illinois’ asset forfeiture guidelines are written into 25 different laws that authorize police and state’s attorneys to seize property in cases involving everything from drug investigations and money laundering to DUIs and basic traffic stops. The result is a convoluted system that can be difficult to navigate.
    According to a 2016 report co-authored by the ACLU of Illinois and the Policy Institute, Illinois police agencies collect about $30 million every year from forfeited property.
    “Illinois is overdue for a rewrite of this part of our criminal justice code. We should have taken care of this long ago, and I am more than happy to make this one of my priorities this spring,” Harmon declares. “I think the changes we’ve proposed in this legislation address many of the recommendations that have been brought to our attention and, in fact, go even further.”