Illinois Public Media News
Legislation Seeks to Extend Immigration Rights to Same-Sex Couples
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans gays from openly serving in the armed services. But there's another issue that many gay rights supporters are pushing. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on the political deadlock over legislation to extend immigration rights to same-sex binational couples.
Sen. Roland Burris' appointment by a disgraced governor made him an oddity and something of an outcast in Washington. But on Thursday he said that his time in the U.S. Senate, however short, was a "towering testament" to the American Dream.
Delivering a farewell speech on the Senate floor, Burris said he was proud of what he accomplished in just under two years in Washington.
"Together we have achieved passage of the most ambitious legislative agenda since the Great Depression," Burris said. He called his time in the Senate "the honor of my lifetime."
Burris cited more than 60 bills he sponsored and 300 others he co-sponsored during his time in office. He said he was particularly proud of his work on President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul and increasing funding for Pell Grants.
The Democrat was appointed to the seat by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Burris will make way for Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, who won an election to fill the remainder of Burris' term and a full six-year term on Election Day. Kirk will be sworn in after Thanksgiving.
Burris is the Senate's only black member and when he leaves, there will be none -- a fact Burris said was painful to him. He used much of his speech to call for more diversity in government.
The great-grandson of a slave, Burris said his time in the Senate was "a remarkable testament to our nation's ability to correct the wrongs of generations past," but also said that is departure is a "solemn reminder of how far we have to go."
"I am today the only black American member of this Senate ... when the one 112th Congress is sworn in this coming January, there will not be a single black American who takes the oath of office in this chamber. This is simply unacceptable."
Burris has not announced what he plans to do after leaving office, but is expected to return to Illinois.
Numbers released Friday show nearly 500 schools are at least 90 percent poor and 90 percent minority, but only one of them has also gotten 90 percent of its students to meet standards on state tests. Illinois Public Radio's Linda Lutton reports from the state's only "90-90-90" school.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
A sixth year of courtwatching in Champaign County has shed new light on predominantly white and female juries.
The statistics released Thursday by the County's League of Woman Voters and University of Illinois College of Law show that a woman is 1.5 times more likely to serve on a jury than a man.
The analysis of courtroom proceedings also showed the odds of seating a white juror are nearly four times greater than having an African-American or other minority on the jury. U of I Law Professor Steve Beckett said he hopes new questionnaires and public service announcements will improve those results, but he said their efforts can only go so far.
"We have to make the decision that the courts don't belong to the judges, and the administrators, and the attorneys, and the state's attorney - they belong to the people," Beckett said. "So long as the people are satisfied by not coming to jury duty then you're not going to have diversity in your court system. When the community decides that it's going to live up to its civic responsibility and come to court, then you will have diversity."
Beckett admitted one problem is the $10 a day per diem given to jurors. He said many who are self-employed cannot afford to sit on a jury. Beckett, who is a Democratic County Board member, also pointed out that the county cannot afford to pay any more right now.
Joan Miller chairs the League of Women Voters Justice Committee. She said the imbalance of women-to-men serving on juries is a national problem, but said Champaign County may be one of the few areas trying to do something about it. Her group has prepared new public service announcements aimed primarily at young people, with hopes they will demystify the experience of serving on a jury.
"Think about what it's like for a young person who's never had experience with the courts," Miller said. "Or maybe he has to walk into the courthouse and into a courtroom and we're hoping some of these will make it less stressful to respond to jury summons."
The County Board operates an advisory committee on jury selection, seeking ways to boost minority participation. Beckett pointed out that the new juror questionnaire is being prepared by a judge, the circuit clerk, state's attorney and public defender's office. He said the old survey asked if they any family members had been convicted of a crime, which he suspected may have deterred some people from serving on juries.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Remarks on race made by state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) have prompted leaders of two county Republican organizations to call for him to withdraw from the race. Reynolds is running for the 52nd District seat, which makes up parts of Champaign and Vermilion Counties.
In response to a question about increasing minority enrollment at the University of Illinois, Reynolds said black men "find it more lucrative to be able to do drugs" or commit other crimes than get an education.
Champaign County Republican Chairman Jason Barickman says the comments are a "gross stereotype" that are a "stark contrast" to Republican values.
Reynolds has complained in the past about tepid GOP support. While Reynolds won the GOP primary in the 52nd Illinois Senate District, Barickman conceded he is never been a party favorite in Champaign County.
"Reynolds independently ran as a write-in candidate," Barickman said. "He implied that he has not been supported by the Champaign County Republican Party, and I think now people see why that is. We've long had some concerns about his candidacy. But last night's comments are just the final straw. "
Vermilion County Republican Chairman Craig Golden released a statement saying that both he and the Vermilion County Republican Executive Committee were calling on Reynolds to either suspend his campaign or withdraw from the race.
"(Reynolds') remarks were a gross generalization and dealt with racial issues which have no place in a political campaign in 2010, or any other year," according to Golden.
According to the News-Gazette, Reynolds said at a candidates' forum Wednesday night in Champaign that African-American men seem less motivated than African-American women to hold jobs. The Danville Republican said more incentives should be provided to encourage African-American men to seek an education. Reynolds could not be reached for comment.
His Democratic opponent, incumbent Senator Mike Frerichs (R-Champaign), would not comment on whether Reynolds should drop out of the race.
"I was shocked," Frerichs said. "Not that people hold these positions and believe these stereotypes, but that somebody would actually verbalize them in a public forum."
Reynolds is a co-founder of the East Central Illinois Tea Party; he resigned from that group in October, 2009. Another Tea Party organization, the Champaign Tea Party, released a statement Thursday distancing itself from Reynolds, saying it "condemns any negative racial opinion, speech, or attitude."
Barickman said if Reynolds chooses to bow out of the race, then the Republican Party will take steps to find a replacement candidate.
Meanwhile, Reynolds released a statement saying he has no intention of ending his campaign. However, Reynolds apologized for his remarks.
"I realize that my words generalized a small segment of my neighbors and I regret the inferences that it created," Reynolds said. "That was certainly not my intent."
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden said dropping out of the race is not a possibility since the September certification deadline for candidates to withdraw from political races has already passed.
"Dropping out of races and putting other people in would be chaos," Sheldon said. "Everyone has a fair timeline as to whether or not they want to be a candidate."
Vermilion County Clerk Lynn Foster said the same election rules apply in Vermilion County. More than 4,265 voters have cast ballots in Danville and Vermilion and Champaign Counties.
Frerichs and Reynolds are scheduled to take part in a town hall forum at 7pm on Thursday, October 21 in the Community Room on the second floor of the Old National Bank, 2 W. Main St. in Danville.
Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows talked with Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney about a series of attacks in the past several weeks, where groups of young men have attacked lone individuals on the street late at night. In 21 attacks spread out over a month and a half, the victims have been mostly young men on the University of Illinois campus. Champaign Police are asking anyone with information on any of the attacks to call 217-351-4545, or contact Champaign County Crimestoppers anonymously at 217-373-TIPS.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
Family members of Kiwane Carrington are condemning the wrongful death settlement unanimously approved by Champaign City Council members Tuesday night.
The father of the 15-year old killed in a police shooting nearly a year ago, Albert Carrington, said he will do whatever he can to get a larger amount, but he would not indicate how much more than the $470,000 settlement he is seeking.
Kiwane Carrington's sister, Kenesha Williams, got emotional when telling the council that she had turn the settlement down.
"This amount of money that you guys have offered or are deciding on tonight," said Williams. "You guys don't need to decide on it because I'm not taking it."
Williams declined further comment, but Albert Carrington challenged council members.
"Just think about what's going on," said Carrington. "My son was not an insurgent. He was not in Afghanistan. It's real out here."
Council members say they know no amount can make up for what Carrington's family has lost. Will Kyles said it is unfortunate that it took this tragedy to bring about change in the community, but he said those changes are underway, citing improved police relations with the African-American community.
"I do see people coming together," said Kyles. "I do think that we're going to make it out of this. I don't think we're going to make it out of it over rhetoric, but I do believe that we're going to make it out of it."
Council member Michael LaDue said Tuesday night's decision is "not a consummation." He said said city officials are grieving too because the community "is our family."
"The depth and range of emotion with respect to this has brought home to all of us who are charged with representing the people and their interests in this community," said LaDue, who choked up as he talked. "It is a profound thing but there is nothing more profound than the loss of an immediate loved one. There's nothing so permanent."
Champaign County NAACP President Jerome Chambers told the city council not to be satisfied solely with this decision.
"It's time for us now to build bridges instead of walls," said Chambers. "You've got this facade up that we can throw money at a situation. A band-aid will not cover a bullet hole."
Community activist Martel Miller told the council he is willing to meet with city officials and Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney. He noted that there is something wrong with a community if it can't settle its differences after the death of a young person.
A proposal that will be introduced later this fall in the Illinois House of Representatives seeks to put an immigration law similar to the one passed in Arizona on the books.
State representative Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) is co-sponsoring the measure with Republican Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream). Mitchell said a centerpiece to the measure would cut Medicaid services to people who are not U.S. citizens by modifying the Illinois All Kids program, which provides health coverage for children regardless of immigration status.
"We're spending millions of dollars on health care for illegals," said Mitchell. "It's time to say enough is enough."
Illinois is just one of nine states that offers Medicaid to undocumented immigrants. According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, 1.6 million children are covered under the All Kids program, and a little more than three percent of those covered are undocumented.
"If you're going to do something in which you specifically target children, and make it so that they're not eligible for certain services and accesses, that's not only cruel and heartless, it's just absolutely mind-boggling," said Linus Chan, a staff attorney at the Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic at DePaul University. "That's not going to solve the problem of undocumented immigration."
Mitchell said with a $13 billion budget deficit, Illinois is in no shape to be offering health care services to people living in the country illegally. He said an influx of undocumented immigrants coming to the state are weighing down on the number of available jobs, and contributing to higher taxes going to support education and health care services.
He added that the legislation will also create more stringent regulations for employers who hire undocumented workers, and include language allowing law enforcement officials to ask for someone's paperwork when a "reasonable suspicion exists that a person is here illegally." Mitchell noted that the color of a person's skin would not qualify as a "reasonable suspicion."
Chan said he is worried pushing people out of the state could have dire consequences on Illinois' economy. He took note of a 2006 study released by the Texas comptroller's office, which indicates that eliminating illegal immigration could reduce that state's workforce, personal income, and gross state product.
Mitchell said the legislation will be introduced in November. Since Arizona passed its controversial law in April, other states have considered similar proposals, including Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.
(Photo courtesy of mk30/flickr)
Champaign city officials are hoping for plenty of feedback on a draft version of their plan to improve police-community relations. The plan was posted on the city's website last week, and city spokeswoman Joan Walls says they'll be taking comments online through this Friday.
Walls says the plan is distilled from the input they received during the community forum they held on the issue last March. About 300 people attended the forum, which was held in the wake of the fatal shooting by a police officer of Kiwane Carrington last year. Walls says this is a chance for the forum participants to provide feedback on the plan developed from their discussions.
"We released this draft plan to the Forum participants as promised", says Walls, "to ask them to take a look at it, to make sure we've not lost any important information. And if there was something that maybe they heard at the Forum that perhaps was not included, to provide us with feedback. And so there's an opportunity for them to do that, through an electronic survey."
The draft plan lists 32 specific actions meant to improve relations between Champaign police and the community, especially youth.
Walls says the feedback from both forum participants and the general public will be incorporated into the draft plan to be discussed by the Champaign City Council at their August 24th study session.
Bobby Seale co-founded the controversial Black Panther Party in 1966. The Panthers preached a doctrine of militant black empowerment to end to all forms of oppression against black people. The Black Panther Party was dismantled after 20 years, and Seale and others have taken on non-violent activism. Seale stopped in Champaign to talk to local teachers. He spoke to Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about the Party's legacy and how changes in the world have shaped his activism.
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