Politicians love to come up with clever acronyms that make bad legislation sound like something voters actually want. That’s exactly what they did with the so-called “SAFE-T Act” in Illinois.
Based on the title, you might expect that this law would have something to do with keeping people safe, right? Think again. What the SAFE-T Act really does is eliminate cash bail for people who commit heinous felonies such as second-degree murder, arson, drug-induced homicide, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated battery, burglary, intimidation, aggravated driving under the influence, fleeing and eluding, drug offenses, and threatening a public official.
And just in case you were wondering – no, that doesn’t mean that people who commit those crimes will be sitting in jail until their trial. Just the opposite, in fact. Under the SAFE-T Act, starting on January 1, 2023, accused murderers, arsonists, kidnappers, and other violent criminals will not be in jail at all before their trial. They will be free to roam the streets as before, despite the fact that they are potentially dangerous and undoubtedly desperate.
The only exception is if a prosecutor can prove to a judge with “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant is either a flight risk or presents a “specific” threat to the community. The charges against them, in other words, are not enough to keep them jailed – the prosecutor must find substantial additional evidence that they are likely to commit another crime.
Our communities deserve better than this. The country is currently experiencing a crime wave of historic proportions, characterized by an explosion of violent crime that is primarily affecting urban areas.
So far this year in Chicago alone, there have been over 6,500 robberies; over 4,600 aggravated batteries; and over 5,700 burglaries – all crimes that will no longer involve pre-trial incarceration. In just one year, vehicle thefts have nearly doubled, while murder is up 30% since 2019. And that’s with two whole months left to go in 2022.
The victims of these crimes are disproportionately black and brown Americans, which means that the so-called SAFE-T Act is directly endangering communities of color.
That’s not what the politicians say, though. They say they’re protecting us from the criminal justice system, which is not only a scathing indictment of a system they themselves control, but also an insult to all law-abiding citizens.
If the politicians want to correct the inequities in policing and criminal justice that exist in our society – and they should – they are going about it all wrong. Instead of addressing bias against black and brown people, they are treating that bias like a foregone conclusion. Then, to make matters worse, they are telling us that because they feel (sort of) remorseful that the criminal justice system is biased against black and brown folks, they are going to release people they believe are violent criminals into our communities.
We do not deserve to be forced to live with potentially dangerous criminals in our midst. Would the politicians who voted for the SAFE-T Act want accused murderers wandering the streets of their subdivisions and gated communities? Of course not! But since those criminals will be concentrated in the inner cities, where our communities are located, they can pretend to be social justice warriors while sleeping easy in their beds at night, while we lie awake worrying because our children aren’t safe.
The SAFE-T Act is the ultimate example of how “politics as usual” fails communities of color. Politicians could take action that would actually make a positive difference in our communities, but it’s cheaper and easier to pass laws like the SAFE-T Act and pawn the problems off on us instead.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.
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