Budget for Black Lives Coalition Testifies at 2022 County Budget Hearing

On Wednesday, July 7, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and the County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing to receive comments on their recently released preliminary budget forecast for the 2022 fiscal year. This forecast includes a minimum $53 million increase in the Sheriff’s budget which funds both the jail and electronic monitoring programs, both of which restrict people’s freedom, damage their mental health, and ruin economic standing and family stability. This budget increase for the Sheriff comes on the heels of the County passing the Justice for Black Lives Resolution in July 2020, in which they promised to divest from policing and incarceration and invest in supportive community services instead. CCBF’s Policy Analyst Briana Payton, as well as other Budget for Black Lives Coalition members from SOUL-Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, The People’s Lobby, and National Nurses United appeared at the hearing on Wednesday to testify against this alarming forecast.

You can watch the testimony Briana Payton shared on behalf of CCBF and the B4BL Coalition here, read her remarks below, and email your commissioner demanding an investment in people over punishment by clicking here.

Briana’s remarks:

Good evening President Toni Preckwinkle and to the Cook County Board of Commissioners,

Thank you for the opportunity to address you tonight. My name is Briana Payton and I am speaking on behalf of the Chicago Community Bond Fund and the Budget for Black Lives Coalition.

In response to the preliminary forecast of the Cook County 2022 budget and in the spirit of the heartbreaking story Cate Readling shared earlier, I have a question for you all: what do you give to people in crisis? I’m sure the answer depends on the nature of the need. To a person who is hungry, you would give them food. To someone who is thirsty, we would give water. To someone who is unhoused, we’d provide a place to stay, and to someone who is sick, we would get them to medical treatment. All of these seem like common sense answers, but to Cook County residents who are in dire need of housing, health care, mental health support, and jobs, will we give them jail instead?

I think the immediate answer would be no, but when we spend the largest percentage of our county’s general fund on police and incarceration, and continue to allow jails to be used as a warehouse for our most vulnerable residents, that’s in essence what we are doing. In the face of a local movement that has demanded a different approach to public safety, and in spite of a promise, which was codified in your nearly unanimous Justice for Black Lives Resolution, to invest in supportive community services instead of racist institutions of policing and incarceration, we are predicting another outsized investment in harm over healing, in cages over communities.

I don’t want to discount or negate the positive plans that are laid out for the county’s resources. I have the privilege to serve on the Cook County Equity Fund Task Force, and have seen efforts to direct resources into communities in need. I commend this work, and want to challenge us to take it even further. When I see a predicted $50 million dollar increase in the Cook County Department of Corrections, and millions of dollars more invested into “community corrections, or electronic monitoring” both of which my organization has seen cost people their economic standing, mental health, family stability, and even their very lives, all while they are awaiting trial and legally presumed innocent, I ask myself if this is the best we can do for Cook County, or is this a step backward from the promises made last year and the steps taken toward an invest/divest framework that our community demanded.

According to the US Office of the Treasury, the nearly $1 billion dollars in American Rescue Plan Act that has come to our County is meant to “support a public health response and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable economic recovery.” When we plan for an equitable recovery centered on public health, I think we should challenge ourselves to envision building something better and more effective than what we have relied on in the past. If aggressive policing, surveillance and incarceration kept us safe, Chicago would be safer by now, and so would the rest of the country, which has quadrupled investments in jails and policing over the past few decades with no corresponding benefit to public safety.

We are calling on you to discontinue this problematic pattern, to take a different approach, and to do what is in your power to mitigate the crisis created by jails and policing in our county, the lost lives, the ruined mental health, the separated families. We are asking you to invest in supportive community services that bring healing, like restorative justice, mental health support, housing, and jobs. We are asking you not to give cages to communities in crisis, but to give Cook County residents what we have asked for and what we truly need, which are supportive resources to thrive. Thank you.

If you would like to call on the Cook County Board of Commissioners to invest in resources, not cages, for communities in crisis, click here.

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