State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) is not afraid to use his legislative leverage to address issues plaguing Chicago’s black community.
In 2010, he called for the Illinois National Guard to help patrol crime-ridden streets. He proposed legislation to secure black employment in state jobs. He even proposed legislation to provide small business loans to ex-offenders as a means to create jobs for themselves when society refuses to hire them.
Now the West Side politician wants to draft a bill to make state government more responsive to issues affecting the black community, including unemployment, poor schools, and black-on-black violence. Tentatively, Ford’s proposed bill is called the Black Act.
“Being a black person, I can identify … with the struggles of the black community, growing up on the West Side,” Ford said. “I know if the state wants to reduce its deficit and … make this city the best it can be, we can’t leave anyone out. … In Chicago, we see black people as a separate and a forgotten-about people.”
Ford is still fleshing out details of the act, but it includes creating a task force to help identify specific issues affecting the black community and finding solutions to them. The task force could look at restructuring the educational system and the criminal justice system and eliminating health disparities.
He noted communities with high unemployment, poor schools and high foreclosures see increased violence. The goal, Ford explained, is to get the government to partner with community leaders, universities, churches and non-profits to pool resources to come up with a plan to deal with these issues.
Ford admits the impetus for this act stems from the city’s high murder rate and the shooting death of Heaven Sutton. The 7-year-old was shot while selling lemonade with her mom near her Austin home last month. The city has seen a spike in murders, with 263 compared to 189, up 39 percent, for the same time period last year.
Ford said black-on-black violence accounts for a large percentage of these murders.
“The issues happening in the black community are not going to go away, not unless we deal with it,” Ford said.
When asked if he expects to get flack for proposing a bill specific to blacks, Ford said he probably will. But he added other ethnic groups have done the same thing even on a national scale that has forced the government to find redress for their concerns.
“We see it happening with the immigration issue,” he explained. “The immigration issue is on the table and it’s been dealt with. The gay and lesbian issue is on the table and it’s been dealt with. The black issue must be on the table, and we have to say it – that black people need help.”
Ford said the act would be no different from what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did to end disenfranchisement of blacks as well as other minority groups. The acts eliminated discrimination and guaranteed the right to vote to all citizens.
“The Civil Rights Act is the movement that everyone uses to fight for what’s right,” he said, noting that the state already provides programming and funding to address specific groups’ concerns.
Ford said Gov. Quinn has made veterans’ issues a priority in his administration, including creating several scratch-off lottery tickets to fund veterans programs. Ford sees his bill as no different.
“There is no reason for there to be disparity in health, in education and the criminal system,” he said. “We need to continue to call and remind government that we have a duty – even with the Constitution – that all people are created equal. I don’t see that happening.”
But Ford stressed that the government itself cannot do it alone. Black people, he said, also must have a stake in wanting to improve their lives and their community.
Ford is seeking input and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.