Last week, Orland Park mayor Keith Pekau got his 15 minutes of fame after a presentation he gave at the Chicago suburbs town hall went viral on social media. In the video, Pekau, while backed by sound effects from the movie, The Purge, detailed a grim future for the state of Illinois after the signing of The Safe-T Act by Governor Jay Pritzker which goes into affect Jan. 1, 2023. While his words and added theatrics served its purpose by exciting headline-grazing folks all over the country, one thing is particularly important: he was wrong.
In a recorded speech from a town meeting on September 6, Pekau who is of course running for Congress, stated: “Someone could decide to live in your shed, and all we could do is give them a ticket,” said Pekau. “This is a massive threat to residents of Orland Park, Cook County and Illinois.” This of course, if not true and not how the bill was written or intended. But again, it does make folks talk.
Fox News, embattled Illinois Republicans and the like will have us believe that the SAFE-T Act is a carte blanche directive to keep criminals on the street leading to outcomes like that of the previously mentioned movie where crime is allowed for one night. In reality, it is simply leveling a playing field that has long been slanted towards those with power and money. You know, the ones stoking the flames against it.
First thing is first: no one is going to commit murder and walk out the door and back onto the street. Police can absolutely remove an unwanted person from your property and judges retain the ability to detain anyone they deem a flight risk or threat to society.
So what does the bill do then?
Essentially, the part of the legislation that has right wingers and those who get their news in 140 characters or less is the Pretrial Fairness Act. This bill calls for the end of cash bail in the pretrial detention process. For those who may not be familiar, a person who commits a crime and is arrested currently has two choices. unless they are denied bail. Those choices are: pay the bail or sit and wait for trial. Since Illinois eliminated bail bondsmen in 1963, those are the choices. This create a system wherein even low-level offenders can spend months waiting for their court date while others who can afford bail are free in the interim. It’s a wildly unfair system and the SAFE-T Act essentially puts the haves and the have nots on level playing field.
The bill also calls for the removal of student resource officers in public schools across the state, a move that Chicago has already implemented after several officers were criticized for inappropriate actions on school property. Of course, the man who presides over a suburb with little crime feels entitled to look down on the city that gives it meaning.
“But it doesn’t end here,” said Pekau last Tuesday. “There is currently a bill in front of the house to remove school resource officers from our schools, which means no school resource officer at Sandburg High School. The city of Chicago has already done this,” he said. “I personally do not want to see the city of Chicago become the standard for how we conduct public safety because they have abandoned their police officers, abandoned their residents and created a war zone full of criminals.”
Yes, Chicago has its problems with crime. However when it comes to schools I’d say the suburbs have more folks who look like school shooters so maybe he has a point (he doesn’t). Chicago has again and again served as the butt of the “whataboutisms” of Republicans and bigots whether it is Uvalde or Minnesota where something occurred. Once again, this is an example of a political climber using the city to sink their hooks into.
So why is it being criticized?
Let’s face it, rich white folks enjoy feeling special. Whether its gated communities, exclusive social clubs or general privilege, white folks love the feeling of being better than, despite what they say. In this case, it is easier for the mayor of Orland Park, a suburb of the city founded largely on the back of waves of white flight from Chicago in the late 60s through today, to stoke fear amongst constituents of all colors. Hence, the ridiculous speech above.
In it, Pekau likens the SAFE-T Act to a free for all in Illinois. Painting a picture of murderers and kidnappers facing little to no consequences plays into the idea of Illinois, and Chicago specifically, as a lawless place. Forget of course that the city is not in the top five for homicides per capita or that crime is generally down across the board from the 90s, Pekau who oversees a small town with little crime did his part to continue the flight south that first populated Orland Park.
Leveling the Field
Rather than turning Illinois into a haven for murderers and rapists, as Pekau and other would lead us to believe, the SAFE-T Act fixes a flaw in the system that punishes criminals who can’t afford bail more than those who can. In an age when many people read headlines and few click through the the rest of the article, this simple premise can get clouded.
Music fans in Chicago are probably familiar with Saba at this point in his career. What some may forget though is that he along with his PIVOT Gang crew used their first foray into the public domain to release a collaborative project #FREEJIMMY. The tape was an effort to draw attention to friend, relative and fellow artist Frsh Waters who had been sitting in confinement for a low-level drug possession charge. Because bail was set higher than he could afford, he sat waiting for a court date for three years before being released. Anyone can tell this isn’t the way the American legal system is supposed to work. There is no purge, just a broken system taking a small step in the right direction with the SAFE-T Act.