Maybe all of us are right:

Listening to black chiefs and the Black Caucus,

there is validity in seemingly contradictory statements

By Ed Wojcicki, Executive Director
Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police

February 8, 2021

There have been dueling public statements and town halls in the last three weeks since the Illinois General Assembly passed the criminal justice reform bill (HB 3653). We have our own Resource Center with details about this bill.

The more I listened to the many news reports and read various statements, I began to think, “Maybe all of us are right with our opinions and reactions.” But no, I don’t think so. We can’t all be right when opinions are so contrary.

But I do believe that all of the opinions have validity, and so I’m going to keep listening. Let me explain.

 I have long believed that a great test of leadership is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in mind at the same time and believe in the validity of both.

The Black Caucus is passionate in wanting police reform. “This bill is the best we could produce at this time.” Check. That’s a valid opinion.

The Illinois Chiefs read the 764-page bill and find danger. “We support police modernization and needed reforms, but some of the language in this bill is unworkable and dangerous for citizens, communities, and officers.” Check. That’s a valid opinion.

The bill was sent to governor last week. Sign it, say some. Veto it, the Illinois Chiefs and Chicago Tribune say. Huh?

What shaped my thinking was a conversation I had last week with about 25 black senior law enforcement personnel in Illinois, mostly chiefs. They asked me to consider these things:

  • They share the same concerns that I have about problems with the bill – e.g., mandatory body cameras with no funding, the three-phone call requirement within three hours, unreasonable restrictions on “force” in making arrests and stopping pursuit of offenders, and so on.

  • From their perspective as black men and women with hundreds of years of combined law enforcement experience:

    • They think that our association and I should acknowledge that the bill did not emerge from nowhere. It emerged from festering frustration from the black community about personal negative experiences with the police during their lives.

    • Many of them said that while off-duty, they have been treated disrespectfully by police officers because of their race.

      Obviously, that is painful to hear.

    • The Black Caucus was representing the desires and feelings of their constituents. They want “reform” even if it gets expressed in language that is less than perfect.

These black chiefs later described our conversation as “powerful.” I agree. They want to stay engaged in this conversation within our association. I welcome that. Why? Because they can help shape conversations that build trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve.

Ed’s earlier major statement on this bill, describing the concerns of the Illinois Chiefs, can be found here.