Justice For Black Lives

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson introduced the “Justice for Black Lives” resolution, which calls on the County Board to redirect money previously spent on Cook County Jail to the Black and Brown communities most harmed by mass incarceration.

While the resolution was being introduced and discussed, hundreds of people rallied outside Cook County Jail.

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1 in 6 Chicago Cases Of COVID-19 Traced To Cook County Jail

New research found nearly one in six cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and Illinois can be connected to people moving through the Cook County Jail.

At one point dubbed the “largest-known source” of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

According to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs, cycling through Cook County Jail is associated with 15.7% of all documented cases of the virus in Illinois and 15.9% in Chicago through mid-April.

“As the pandemic began, I realized this was going to be a huge driver,” said Eric Reinhart, a University of Chicago researcher who co-authored the report.

“The jail cycle – arresting people, cycling through the jail and back into their communities – was going to be a huge driver of COVID-19 spreading to communities.”

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COOK COUNTY JAIL: Death Trap

The day after her husband died on Easter Sunday, Cassandra Greer-Lee’s emotions swung from shock to pain to confusion. She wondered whether she did everything she could to save Nickolas Lee from the rapid spread of coronavirus inside Cook County Jail.

She thought of the long stream of calls she had frantically dialed over the past few weeks as Cook County Jail rapidly cemented itself as the largest-known source of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Scrolling through her calls, the numbers ballooned from 60 to 70 to 90 to 100 to finally 132 calls made to the sheriff’s office, a jail sergeant’s desk line, the jail hospital and others to alert them to the spread of coronavirus on Lee’s tier—almost all were unanswered.

Lee was the third of seven detainees who have died after contracting the virus at Cook County Jail. Since then, almost 1,000 Cook County Jail employees and detainees have tested positive for COVID-19; two corrections officers and one court deputy have also died.

Like 98 percent of inmates at Cook County Jail, Lee was awaiting trial.

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DEFUND COOK COUNTY JAIL

Each year, Cook County spends more than $600 million each year supporting a racist system of policing and incarceration through the Cook County Sheriff’s budget, which includes sheriff’s police, the Cook County Jail, and more.

Through the Coalition to End Money Bond, we’ve reduced the jail population by more than 50% since 2013.

But in that time, the budget for the jail has actually increased by 26%. If the jail budget had gone down proportionally to the number of people locked up, we would have $117 million more for other public services in our County.

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DEFUND, DECARCERATE, DISMANTLE MASS INCARCERATION

Gray wisps of smoke emanating from dark concrete. That’s what I remember from the sliver of video of the police killing of 16-year-old Laquan McDonald.

I couldn’t watch the actual shooting—my familiarity with Black death wouldn’t allow it. But I opened my eyes just as those thin wisps began to dissipate in the cool of the night air;  wisps from gunshots—16 of them—emptied into the body of a youth failed by almost all of our societal systems.

He lost his life at the hands of a state-sanctioned actor who couldn’t care less.

Defund The Police.

I get why the phrase elicits such visceral reactions and pearl-clutching in certain corners. “What do you mean, defund?” some people say. “Isn’t reform a better way of phrasing it?” Reform is a perfectly warm, comforting blanket. It is comfortable and sedating.

But it also smothers.

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IMAGINE CPD COMMITTED TO EQUAL JUSTICE

Defund The Police is a new catchphrase that has gained steam across the country. But what exactly does that mean?

For State Rep. LaShawn Ford, it means rebuilding the Chicago Police Department from the top down. “The system is broken, we’ve got to tear it down and replace it because taxpayer dollars are being wasted,” he said.

Police department budgets have ballooned across the nation in recent years. Out of a city total budget of $11.65 billion, CPD’s budget is $1.78 billion. Alderman Ray Lopez, who represents the 15th Ward, said it’s time for the City Council to review that budget.

“If we just pass things as is and never take a deep dive, we will never address the issues that have brought us to this point today, and that would be a shame,” he said.

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CORONAVIRUS: The Prison Tsunami

Despite early warnings, jails and prisons have seen a rapid spread of the virus — a humanitarian disaster that puts all of our communities, and lives, at risk.

Weeks before the first reported cases of COVID-19 in prisons and jails, correctional healthcare experts warned that all the worst aspects of the U.S. criminal justice system — overcrowded, aging facilities lacking sanitary conditions and where medical care is, at best, sparse; too many older prisoners with underlying illnesses; regular flow of staff, guards, healthcare workers in and out of facilities — would leave detention facilities, and their surrounding communities, vulnerable to outbreaks.

Despite those early warnings, even jails and prisons that believed they were well-prepared have seen a rapid spread of the virus.

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COOK COUNTY JAIL GETS HELP FROM COLORADO NURSE

Kyle Mullica came to Chicago to fight COVID-19 on the front lines, picking one of the hottest spots in the city: the Cook County Jail.

“It was intense. It was a lot of hours. It was difficult being away from my family,” said Mullica, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room of a Colorado hospital.

He put his skills to use in Division 10, working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, totaling five weeks straight.

“There’s this sense of duty, and a sense of calling on things like this. I wanted to use the skill that I had,” said Mullica, who also serves as a state representative in Colorado.

So with his wife’s support, he left home.

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COOK COUNTY JAIL: Steady Decrease In COVID-19

Fewer people have tested positive for the coronavirus over the past month at Cook County Jail, officials announced Friday.

The rate of positive COVID-19 tests has gone from 97% to less than 10% since March, Cook County Health officials said in a statement. Since May 8, most of the new cases have come from detainees entering the jail, rather than people who were already in custody, officials said.

They credited the decline to interventions implemented since the beginning of the year, including opening unused divisions to accommodate social distancing, converting available cells to single-occupancy and enhanced testing.

“As we watched this pandemic approach Cook County, we understood the potential impact it could have at the jail and worked with our public safety partners,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in the statement.

“This was both the right thing to do for these individuals and the right thing to do to mitigate spread inside the jail.”

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G HERBO TO THE RESCUE

Chicago hip-hop artist G Herbo is partnering with Alliance for Safety and Justice, a California-based criminal justice advocacy organization to donate 20,000 PPE protective masks to the Cook County Jail at 5 p.m. Thursday, organizers said.

The donation is made possible through the ASJ and its subsidiary project “Time Done,” which aims to knock down legal barriers that previously incarcerated people often face such as access to housing, education and employment.

G Herbo isn’t the only Chicago hip-hop luminary who’s giving back to a community in a time of need.

Earlier this week, activist and rapper Common called attention to how the pandemic poses a health risk to millions of incarcerated people in the U.S. via his criminal justice reform organization Imagine Justice in a campaign dubbed #WeMatterToo.

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