Chicago (6 Jan 2020)—Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker invited Zakat Foundation Executive Director Halil Demir, with other civic and faith leaders, lawmakers, and social justice advocates, to help mark his public pardon for the new year of 11,017 mostly minorities unfairly targeted by discriminatory low-level marijuana convictions that did incalculable damage to their lives and families.
“Like Islam and our Prophet, on him be peace, we stand on the side of equal justice and mercy for all,” said Demir. “Today’s legislation seeks to remedy the unfair and massive application of a law that did disproportionate harm to literally hundreds of thousands, mostly because of their skin color.”
“We know that Black Illinois residents are far more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana possession than whites,” said Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
“Those who were unfairly targeted by discriminatory drug laws can finally get ahead and build a new future for themselves and their families,” said former State Senator Toi Hutchinson, an advisor on the legislation, referring to how these misdemeanor offenses blocked many from getting jobs.
Illinois’ landmark expungement legislation does more than make record clearing possible for those with minor cannabis convictions. It makes it nearly automatic, impacting an estimated 116,000. In addition, the law enables enforcement agencies to erase the records of as many as 572,000 whose arrests in the past five years did not result in conviction.
The press conference served as whose-who of sorts for social justice in the state. Pritzker explicitly sought to give “interfaith blessing and moral framing” to the new law with the venue of the public signing at Trinity United Church of Christ, and the attendance of noted Illinois religious leaders strongly associated with social justice. These included the Zakat Foundation’s Demir, celebrated civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., president of Rainbow/PUSH, St. Sabina’s Father Pfleger, Imam Tariq of Inner City Muslim Action Network, Rabbi David Minkus of Congregation Rodfei Zedek, and Rabbi Jason Fenster of B’Nai Jenoshua Beth Elohim. Trinity’s own Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III welcomed officials and guests with opening remarks.
Also speaking at the signing were Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Alderman Walter Burnett, and Cabrini Green Legal Aide, Exec. Dir. Esther Franco-Payne.
Zakat Foundation, an Illinois-based global charity since its inception in 2001, has built a robust network of relationships and strong track record in working for social justice. Under Demir’s direction, the worldwide humanitarian foundation has grown into a social justice leader in its home state, where its Bridgeview headquarters remains.
“We seek out the vulnerable wherever they are in the world with the life-sustaining help of our supporters, with both emergency and long-term aid,” said Demir. “We’re a global humanitarian organization, yes. But we never forget our roots. We’re all about human beings, period. We put humanity first.”