Responding to recent shootings, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown declared that “violent felons” need to “stay in jail longer.”
If he means that pretrial detainees must be jailed longer, this is unconstitutional. You can’t delay someone’s trial to jail them longer.
If he means that people convicted of violent crimes must stay in prison longer, this is equally ignorant. In Illinois, if someone commits a murder with a gun, he or she faces a minimum 45-year sentence, which the person is unlikely to outlive.
What makes Brown think that increasing that sentence will make a difference?
Brown’s outworn “tough on crime” rhetoric betrays his disregard for the failure of punitive deterrence and the real social needs of marginalized communities. Another police officer, Patrick Skinner, stressed in a recent Washington Post op-ed that “the rhetoric and the tactics and the aggression of war have no place in local police work.”
Yet Brown invokes the same aggressive approach and demonizing labels used by his predecessors and politicians for the past 40 years, which have proved ineffective in preventing crime and disastrous for marginalized communities.
Curiously, Brown hasn’t called for harsher prison sentences for violent police.
People (including those in uniform) need to be held accountable for their actions. But extreme punishment is a failed and racist policy. The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and yet our cities have some of the world’s highest crime rates.
Illinois stands out for extreme sentencing laws, which have sent thousands of Illinoisans — over 70% of whom are people of color — to prison for the rest of their lives.
To bolster past politicians’ “toughness,” these people have been permanently torn from their families and communities.
Communities have sent a clear message: no more law enforcement “toughness” or swaggering sound bites. They want real solutions for families who are both victims of violence and caught in cycles of incarceration.
Brown’s burying of these concerns with knee-jerk rhetoric underscores why the Chicago Police Department must be defunded. Plans for shifting resources to social and mental health services and community renewal and for reopening closed schools, all of which have proved to prevent crime, would be much more inspiring.
— Joseph Dole, policy director, and Shari Stone-Mediatore, managing director, Parole Illinois