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With crime spiking across the state, both parties in Springfield find themselves wrestling with a life-and-death issue that’s begging for problem-solvers, not demagoguery. Yet politics is never far behind.
In Illinois, the issue provides an obvious target for Republicans, who have too little power at this point to bear much of the blame. Democrats don’t have that luxury as they search instead for some good news to justify the merits of the sweeping criminal justice legislation they passed last year, even as they have added additional crime-fighting proposals for this year’s condensed session in Springfield.
New House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, now finishing his first year in the chair occupied by former Speaker Mike Madigan before he was voted out, has an ambitious agenda although he remains cheerfully tight-lipped about the tricky specifics.
The issue throws raw meat to Republicans in the General Assembly who have pounced on persistent surges in carjackings and organized retail theft rings as a sign of weak-on-crime Democrats.
Adding to other recent horror stories about Chicago crime, the carjacking issue seemed to hit state lawmakers close to home after Democratic state Sen. Kimberly Lightford and her husband, Eric McKennie, were carjacked by masked individuals in near west suburban Broadview a few days before Christmas. The holdup let to a shootout between the suspects and Lightford’s husband, who police said possesses a concealed carry license.
Add that to the numerous smash-and-grab burglaries at retail stores since the pandemic began, including blue-ribbon shops on Chicago’s Gold Coast and Magnificent Mile, as well as in the suburbs.
Also on trial is the elimination of cash bail in 2023, a key provision of last year’s anti-crime legislation.
So far, data show a profound lack of empirical proof that similar reforms in Cook County’s bail system have made crime in Chicago worse. But as a political issue, crime always evokes strong feelings quite detached from actual evidence.