By Lauren Jensik
Gabe Gonzalez thinks being poor and a person of color should not be a crime.
“Before you’re found guilty, before you’ve had a court date, before you’re found innocent, before your case is dismissed, if you’re poor, you can’t get out of jail,” said Gonzalez, director of organizing at the Center for Community Change.
The protest, urged by religious leaders and The People’s Lobby, a grassroots organization, was the fifth installment in what has been coined “Resist Trump Tuesdays,” and comes at the heels of President Donald Trump’s pledge to “send in the feds” if the violence in Chicago doesn’t decline.
“I am unaware of any time in history where militarizing a situation has led to a decrease in crime,” Gonzalez said.
Esau Chavez, a participant in Tuesday’s protest, agreed that the root causes of violence are poverty and discrimination, and placing more police on Chicago streets isn’t the answer to rising crime.
“We need community resources,” Chavez said. “Better schools, fully funded schools, after-school programs…job training to invest in the green energy that we need in the future…”
The protesters called on Chief Justice Timothy Evans to end Cook County’s practice of bail bonds, which Chavez claimed are more than most prisoners arrested for low-level offenses are able to pay while awaiting court dates.
“If you said to any one of [these prisoners] ‘Do you want to be in jail?’ they’d say no,” Gonzalez said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “If they had the money, they’d put it up.”
Chavez said last week “95 percent of the people in Cook County jails are waiting for trial. Sixty-five percent of the people can’t afford their bond, so they’re just basically sitting in prison for being poor.”
According to Nora Fox Handler, a mental healthcare advocate and participant in Tuesday’s protest, at least 25 percent of inmates at Cook County Jail are suffering from disabilities and mental illness.
“It could be as high as 70 percent,” Handler said. “The Cermak Hospital in the Cook County Jail is the largest mental hospital we have.”
With family members struggling with disabilities, Handler has become an advocate for increased funding of mental health services and clinics, as well as quality training for police officers on crisis intervention.
“The police were not hired to be social workers,” Handler said, “but [people with disabilities and mental illnesses] are on the street without services, and so they’re interacting with police more and more.”