I am not a trained journalist; I began writing for this publication out of frustration over 10-years ago. I often write about things that I can’t shake. When something gets in my craw, I’m compelled to put pen to paper.
Have you ever become so weary at fighting what seemed like a losing battle? Tonight, as I write this piece, is one of those times. I’ve lived in this community since I’ve been twenty-one, so it’s pretty much my hometown. In my opinion Peoria has always been slow with accepting change. I suspect that is where the saying “If it plays in Peoria” comes from.
I am struggling with the status quo of the good ole boys system, that makes up the leadership in this community, that is almost impenetrable. It appears to me, that gender and race trumps even political affiliation in Peoria.
In a recent Peoria Journal Star article, a 26-year-old white female was involved in a fatal hit and run incident and Judge Kevin Lyons sentenced her to 75 days in the county jail. His explanation for not giving her a harsher sentence was, “she is not penitentiary material” according to the reporter. I ask the question, who is penitentiary material?
In 2009 when the 3rd Appellate District Court overturned a 24-year ruling in a 2005 court cased that sentenced a 15-year old Black male, who fired shots down the hallway of Woodruff High School, Judge Lyons, who was the Peoria County State’s attorney at the time, threatened to appeal the ruling. In that case no one was killed or even injured. So, my question remains, who is penitentiary material?
Last year the nephew of Peoria’s mayor, shot an individual in the shoulder and hand, the charges were reduced, by the Peoria County States Attorney, from aggravated battery to reckless firing of a handgun, allowing him to avoid penitentiary time. Same question, who is penitentiary material?
Recently, a 14-year-old Black male has been accused of being the shooter in a case where a 16-year-old Black male was killed. The Judge in the Juvenile Division moved the case out of the Juvenile Court to Adult Court. Judge Frank Ierulli made the statement that Juvenile Court was not the right place for this young boy. Even though the young boy’s IQ is at the lower end of average, Judge Ierulli, said “this kid is street smart and savvy, he knows what to do and when to do it.” I still ask, who is penitentiary material?
I do not question that justice shouldn’t be served; I question how it is being meted out in this community. The data does not lie, and it continues to expose the iniquities in the criminal justice system in this city.
Peoria County is second only to Cook County in the number of juveniles in the criminal justice system from all of 2018 through the first quarter of 2019, based on information from the Illinois State Police.
In 2014, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, 68.5% of all people sentenced to prison from Peoria County were Black, even though African Americans are only 19% of Peoria County.
African Americans are 2.4% more likely to be respondents or defendants in every courtroom in Peoria County. Based on information from the Center for Adoption studies at Illinois State University, in 2018, Black children made up 69% of all children in foster care in Peoria County.
The African American community has fines and fees assessed greater than any other community in the state, and second only to Ferguson, Missouri in the Midwest.
In a recent MSNBC interview Eddie Glaude Jr., the chair of Princeton’s Department of African American Studies said the following, “America’s not unique in its sins. As a country, we’re not unique in our evils. I think where we may be singular is our refusal to acknowledge them. And the legends and myths we tell about our inherent goodness, is to hide and cover and conceal, so that we can maintain a kind of willful ignorance that protects our innocence.
But social scientists were already writing that what was driving the tea party were anxieties about demographic shifts. That the country was changing, that they were seeing these racially ambiguous babies on Cheerios commercials, that the country wasn’t quite feeling like it was a white nation anymore. People were screaming from the top of their lungs. This is not just simply economic populism. This is the ugly underbelly of the country.
It’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders. It’s easy for us to place Pittsburgh on his shoulders, it’s easy for me to place Charlottesville on his shoulders, it’s easy for us to place El Paso on his shoulders, This is us! And if we’re going to get past this, we can’t blame it on him. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.
Either we’re going to change… or we’re going to do this again and again, and babies are going to have to grow up without mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, friends, while we’re trying to convince white folk to finally leave behind a history that will maybe, maybe ― or embrace a history that might set them free from being white, Finally.”
This is clearly not just a Peoria issue, but all politics are local. We cannot afford to sit this next election cycle out. It is critical that we consider who is elected to our local states attorney office. We need to ask questions about what type of criminal reform the next states attorney plans to enact in our community. Will he/she continue with the status quo or will they make sure there is equity in their handling of cases? Will hw/she consider their own biases when they determine who is penitentiary material? Stay WOKE Peoria and Vote!