Standing by a statue in the church named for Martin de Porres, patron saint of social and interracial justice, West Side bluesman Larry Taylor looked toward the future. He came in support of a new state bill that would help people seal their records immediately in court after being acquitted of a nonviolent crime.
At a press conference Sunday morning Feb. 7 at the graceful St. Martins cathedral on Washington Street, Rep. LaShawn Ford and Rep. Camille Lilly announced they have introduced a new sealing bill, HB 4954, in the Illinois House of Representatives.
St. Martin de Porres was a lay brother of mixed ancestry—Spanish, Native American and African— in 16th century Peru. Martin was known for healing the sick, sometimes miraculously, and treating all people equally as children of God. The church's pastor, Fr. Tom Walsh, spoke eloquently about the bill's potential to heal lives, families and communities.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-7th District, who Rep. Ford termed "the godfather" of second-chance for former prisoners, spoke for the bill as well. He said measures like this can make a big difference to help people move on beyond their mistakes and live a normal life. A felony on a person's police record makes it very hard to get a job or housing and often leaves them with no hope of ever rising from poverty.
Cook County Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, who has instituted procedures for citizens to expedite sealing and expungement, announced she has contacted other county court clerks around the state in support of the bill.
Larry Taylor said the heavy rate of arrests and incarceration inflicted on the Black community has put a hurt on himself and members of his family. Taylor came home from four years in Menard Prison in 1977 and had a clean record until being nabbed with drug possession charges last February on a West Side street. He was quickly acquitted in Cook County Circuit Court, along with several neighbors who were arrested at that same location . He filed expungement papers, only to see the felony charge remain on his police record when police pulled him over in a traffic stop six months later.
Taylor said the public officials' efforts have given him hope. "We need to vote out the corrupt politicians who sell out the people, and we also need to support officials who try to work for us." He said he appreciates the efforts of Dorothy Brown and supports her re-election as county court clerk. "Politicians get to hear a lot of people complaining about things. They need to hear our thanks when they do something positive. This bill will help people move on in their lives and do positive things in the community too."
Taylor also aims for his music to add some good vibes to the West Side: "The blues and soul music in our neighborhood came from the Great Migration here from the South. It's a big part of Black History that we can be proud of. We can celebrate it this month, and share it with people outside our neighborhood as well."
"When people think of the West Side, it won't anymore be 'Guns and Drugs.' It will be 'Blues and Soul' that comes to their minds."
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