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Critics Slam Chicago Mayor’s Push for a New Mandatory Minimum, Plan Protest

Lauren Taylor • Dec 02, 2013

Illinois legislators are considering a state law that would increase mandatory minimum sentences for gun-related charges. The state legislature will convene for a special session on Tuesday, December 3, where they will have a chance to vote on the bill. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the law in February, and has pushed it as a solution to Chicago’s gun violence. Many local and national groups have criticized the proposal, citing a lack of evidence that mandatory minimums work, in addition to the high cost and discriminatory impact such laws continue to have. 

Project NIA, a Chicago-based community organization explained a few of those high costs in an October 30th press release:

“… because SB 1342 takes away time served for good behavior, the bill would push sentences to unprecedented levels. Mayor Emanuel’s proposal will increase already overcrowded Illinois’ prison population by about 4,000 inmates and cost taxpayers more than $1 billion over ten years.”

Last week, the Black Youth Project joined the campaign to oppose the bill, and created a petition. The petition begins:

I urge you to oppose SB1342 because mandatory minimum laws like this are racially biased, harmful to Black communities and will increase the number of Black People in prison in Illinois. This bill further criminalizes Black people at the expense of holding illicit gun sellers accountable.

In the group’s statement, they elaborate on their reasons for opposing the bill, explaining the bill won’t work because it doesn’t address the root causes of violence.

Emanuel has defended his proposal, arguing that the gun laws must be strengthened, and citing specific Chicago shootings. Proponents of the bill have argued that it would deter crime and reduce violence, but there is little evidence to support the claim that mandatory minimums have a deterrent effect.

Furthermore, recent studies back up the long-standing criticism that mandatory minimums disproportionately impact people of color. When such policies were first implemented, some advocates believed they would reduce racial disparities in sentencing. The legacy of such policies has been the opposite. A recent Northwestern study found that mandatory minimums were not only ineffective, but racially discriminatory:

“For more than two decades, it has been clear that white, non-Hispanic defendants arrested for mandatory minimum-eligible offenses are less likely to be charged at the mandatory level, more likely to be given diversion options, and less likely to be convicted at the mandatory level, than similarly situated African American and Hispanic defendants.”

Consequently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has argued that mandatory minimums should be abolished. In 2010, before the US Sentencing Commission, the ACLU argued:

“[m]andatory minimums should be abolished or reformed because they generate unnecessarily harsh sentences, tie judges’ hands in considering individual circumstances, create racial disparities in sentencing and empower prosecutors to force defendants to bargain away their constitutional rights.”

A wide range of religious groups, experts, and community organizations have come together to oppose the bill. Recently, advocates took to social media, using facebook pictures, memes, and a Buzzfeed list to share their message. Tonight, opponents of the bill are holding a protest at City Hall in Chicago, called “Shine the Light on Mandatory Minimums.”

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