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Review of state monuments, statues begins at Statehouse
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SPRINGFIELD — A House committee tasked with reviewing statues and monuments on state property held its first meeting Wednesday, hearing from professors and state government associations on what frameworks can be established to guide the review process.

Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican who serves as minority spokesperson on the task force, said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s creation of the review body is an “important and correct” decision.

“The history of our state, much like history itself can be complicated, nuanced and contradictory,” Butler said. “Who and what we honor through memorialization often reflects those complications and nuances. And some monuments which have been erected in previous generations certainly conflict with the values we hold today.”

Butler said figures such as John W.E. Thomas, who was born a slave in Alabama and in 1876 became the first African American elected to the Illinois General Assembly, should have a place of honor in the Illinois Capitol.

Butler also advocated for preserving the image of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, two former U.S. presidents with Illinois ties.

“While review and reevaluation are warranted on many things, advocating removal of monuments for people like Lincoln and Grant really gives me pause as to whether those who advocate for this position truly understand the tremendous positive impacts individuals like them have had on where our nation and world is today.”

Rep. Mary Flowers, who this year became the longest-serving Black lawmaker in the state’s history, is the chair of the task force. The Chicago Democrat said certain statues are indicative of “white supremacy,” and the committee’s role will be “education, education, education” on state monuments and their subjects.  

“We cannot erase our history, our history is what it is,” she said. “But the fact of the matter is the same way we have eliminated the colored signs and the blacks only water fountains and bathrooms and different things like that, with these statues, those are the reminders of the past, as well as the white supremacy. And these are the things that we need to eliminate because that's not who we are today.”

Flowers said there are statues “that have been erected to honor people that have done some horrible things to other people.” While they might not have a place at the Statehouse, she said, they could play a role in history viewed in a broader context.

“I don't think that our committee is interested in destroying any monuments, statues, I want them to be placed elsewhere to be talked about so it would never happen again,” she said.

History and how it is written, told and portrayed in public spaces was a major theme of the first task force hearing.

“What are the stories that demand a more complete and honest retelling?” Linda Reneé Baker, a professor at Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute asked in her committee testimony. “We can't erase the history, but we can retell the stories, we can work with the historians to tell them in a more factual manner, we can reframe the discussion in light of the truth as we know it.”

Landscape architecture professor David Hays of the University of Illinois spoke to the committee about how monuments can be used as forms of oppression.

“And here, it's important to recall that history is not the same as the past,” Hays said. “The past refers to events or conditions that have already occurred and cannot be altered. In contrast, history is the way the past is represented, interpreted and understood. So history is always made in the present.”

History, Hays said “is always subjective. It's a matter of opinion, even when anchored in facts.” The design of public places “plays a significant role” in interpreting elements of the past and translating them to the present.

An important question in analyzing art and public spaces is when and why the artwork first came to be, he said. Many monuments to the confederacy in the south and nationwide came to be in the 1920s, “and they were definitely put up as part of a campaign of intimidation,” he said.

“And that's the way in which it's really important to distinguish between the past and interpretation of the past history,” he said.

Butler said Hays’ perspective will be a valuable one as the committee educates itself on memorials to “complicated people.”

Flowers also noted that despite changing interpretations of the past, “bigotry is bigotry,” and some monuments are romanticized renderings of “how things used to be.”

“As a result of how things used to be, some people would like to carry on that legacy at the risk or at the harm of other people,” she said, noting some statues nationwide are “causing a lot of problems and have caused a lot of problems” with the simplified versions of the past they depict.

“History has been used, has been instrumentalized, to oppress people for a very long time,” Hays responded. “History is written by the victors, some say. But we can write history ourselves in ways that are more consistent with our meanings and that's why I think it's really important to say we can't change the past, but we can change history.”

The committee will hold several hearings, Flowers said, although the exact number is not decided yet, and then it will present recommendations to the General Assembly.

On Wednesday, they also heard from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments to hear about actions being taken in other states to address monuments on state grounds. 

Bill change would allow voters to lift rent control bans locally
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SPRINGFIELD — A new amendment to House Bill 116, which advanced out of committee earlier this spring, would allow municipalities to vote on rent control measures through referendum.

HB116 as originally introduced would have lifted the state’s blanket ban on local rent control measures, which has been in place since 1997. The new amendment instead would give that power to voters and municipal governments to consider rent control measures on a community-by-community basis.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said he chose to introduce the amendment as a compromise after hearing from constituents and colleagues in the house.

“We've gotten great support for (this bill) in the chamber, but we also heard some concerns from some colleagues about lifting this ban statewide,” Guzzardi said Wednesday.

“There were some members who spoke to me and said well you know, the people in our community really think that this ban is important, and voters in my district don't want to be exempted from the ban,” he added.

Guzzardi said in a Wednesday Housing Committee hearing that the new amendment would lay out a process to allow local voters to introduce a ballot measure for rent control, from the petition process to placing a referendum on the ballot.

Under the act, if voters of a municipality pass a rent control referendum, the municipality would be considered exempt from the state’s blanket ban on rent control policies, allowing the local government to set caps on rent prices.

“If a community can get the signatures to get a petition on the ballot and pass a referendum, and its locally elected officials can pass an ordinance to govern rent increases in their community, boy, it doesn't seem like we should be standing in that community's way,” Guzzardi said Wednesday.

Opponents of the legislation, including Greg St. Aubin of the Illinois Realtors Association, called the bill “a very destructive policy” that would discourage investment in new housing developments and create an atmosphere of uncertainty for developers and landlords around the state.

“Our view is that whether you lift the ban in its entirety, or you go with this model, we believe that it is sending a tacit message from the state to local governments that (rent control) is a legitimate, viable, and perhaps even worthwhile policy, and we disagree with that,” St. Aubin said.

Republican opponents on the committee raised concerns that the bill still goes too far in opening the door to regulating rental costs for landlords who need to set prices in order to adequately maintain their rental properties, and that the legislation could allow for a wide range of rules on rent across the state.

Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, said the bill would be an overreach on regulating landlords.

“Theoretically, a vote, a referendum and a city council could completely obliterate whatever business they have. So, I mean, doesn't that seem like a complete government takeover of a private business?” Chesney said.

“There's no protection to the actual owners that gives them any certainty of what the city councils would even be able to do,” he added.

Guzzardi responded that the bill is intended to give more flexibility and power to local municipalities to decide for themselves if rent control is an approach they would like to consider, and that the bill would play no part in determining a statewide policy on rent control.

“We are offering the marvelous and much beloved protection of democracy,” Guzzardi said. “Right now, communities have no voice in this manner.”

Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, agreed that the legislation as amended would provide a fair balance across the state to leave a preemption on rent control in place while simultaneously providing municipalities the ability to decide for themselves if they wish to initiate rent control.

“I think that this bill really gives us an opportunity to leave it to the voters to decide where they stand, and then go back to the local authorities (when they) decide they want to entertain the conversation,” Ramirez said.

The bill as amended passed the Housing Committee by a 14-8 vote Wednesday.

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Heather's Bakeshop opens Saturday in downtown Carterville
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CARTERVILLE — A new business will bring its farmer’s market favorites to downtown Carterville.

Heather’s Bakeshop will open Saturday with a grand celebration from 7 a.m. to noon at 137 S. Division St.

During the opening, Cold Blooded Coffee will offer up coffee drinks and guests can enter to win a prize basket.

Owner Heather Lange, of Carterville, started her business by selling at the Marion Farmer’s Market and baking for family and friends. She used the market to test items.

“They gave me good feedback,” Lange said.

Lange said the shop will feature a “good variety’’ of baked goods and country desserts, such as cinnamon rolls, cookies and blondies, as well as some Keto-friendly items.

Her offerings at a recent farmer’s market included cookie butter puppy chow, cookies and cream blondies, caramel apple cake, Keto pecan pralines, zucchini bread, banana nut bread, blueberry muffins and lemon blueberry bread.

“When you think of a traditional bakery, we’re not that. We don’t do custom cakes or cupcakes. We will offer 9-by-13-inch pans of things you could take to a potluck,” Lange said.

Lange said she is excited about the opening. She is working to make sure everyone will be safe and that COVID-19 protocols are followed.

“It’s not as restricted as you would think,” she said.

Lange will continue to sell at Marion Farmer’s Market, which is 6 a.m. to noon Saturdays at 507 W. Main St.

Heather’s Bakeshop will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 7 a.m. to noon Saturday and closed Sunday and Monday.

The bake shop will be in the building that housed Rise Above It Bakery & Café, which closed Feb. 28.

Jennifer Spence, who owned the building, was thrilled that the building sold so quickly.

“I couldn’t be happier for Heather with the grand opening of Heather’s Bake Shop. It was obviously bittersweet when the family-effort of Rise Above It Bakery & Café had to close. As the developer and owner of the building, I was blessed to have Heather and Carl Lange purchase this renovated facility,” Spence said.

Spence said she showed the building to two people. Heather and Carl Lange purchased the building, and 24 hours later, the other couple purchased the building Spence currently is renovating.

“With the following of Heather’s popular baked goods, I know it will be a great addition to downtown Carterville. I believe it is also a start of more exciting changes for our downtown,” Spence said.

Congress diving into policing laws
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WASHINGTON — Bolstered with new momentum, Congress is ready to try again to change the nation's policing laws, heeding President Joe Biden's admonition that the guilty verdict in George Floyd's death is "not enough" for a nation confronting a legacy of police violence.

Legislation that was once stalled on Capitol Hill is now closer than ever to consensus, lawmakers of both parties said Wednesday, a day after a Minneapolis jury found former officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death. Behind the scenes, negotiations are narrowing on a compromise for a sweeping overhaul, though passage remains uncertain.

Tuesday's verdict launches "a new phase of a long struggle to bring justice to America," declared Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., in urging passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. "This is the human rights issue in the United States of America."

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis after Chauvin was convicted there, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday.

The Justice Department was already investigating whether Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd's death violated his civil rights.

"Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis," Garland said.

The new investigation is known as a “pattern or practice" — examining whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing — and will be a more sweeping review of the entire police department. It may result in major changes to policing in the Minnesota city.

It will examine the use of force by police officers, including force used during protests, and whether the department engages in discriminatory practices. It will also look into the department’s handling of misconduct allegations and its treatment of people with behavioral health issues and will assess the department's current systems of accountability, Garland said.

The Minneapolis police said in a statement that the chief, Medaria Arradondo, "welcomes this investigation" and will fully cooperate with federal prosecutors.

The revived effort in Congress, led by Black lawmakers including Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, comes at a pivotal moment. The nation is on edge over the Floyd case, the deaths of other Black Americans — including a 16-year-old girl brandishing a knife about the time the Minneapolis verdict was announced — and almost a year of protests accusing police of brutal actions that often go unseen.

The guilty verdict for Chauvin was a rare occurrence, not least because in this case an officer's actions were recorded by a bystander and shown to the jury in court. That followed months of the video being played repeatedly on TV, imprinted in the minds of Americans everywhere.

With political pressure mounting on all sides, Biden is urging Congress to plunge back into policing legislation.

"We can't stop here," he said Tuesday after the verdict.

In private, Scott briefed key Republican senators on Wednesday, updating his colleagues on quiet negotiations that have been underway with Democrats for nearly two months. He told reporters he expected to wrap up those talks with the Democrats within two weeks.

"We've made tremendous progress," Scott said on Capitol Hill.

Democrats say they are ready.

"This has to come to a stop," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest ranking Black elected official in Congress, after the Chauvin verdict.

He and others, including Scott, have told wrenching stories of their own experiences with law enforcement well into their adult lives as elected officials serving in the most powerful corridors of power.

Congress struggled with a police overhaul bill last summer in the immediate aftermath of Floyd's death, but the legislation went nowhere after Democrats and Republicans could not agree to a compromise package.

The House, led by Democrats, has now twice approved a sweeping overhaul, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, that would be the most substantial federally ordered changes to policing in a generation.

The bill would allow police officers to be sued and damages awarded for violating people's constitutional rights, limiting "qualified immunity" protections now in place for law enforcement.

The legislation would ban the use of chokeholds and would create a national databases of police misconduct in an effort to prevent "bad apple" officers from being hired by other departments.

A Republican bill from Scott does not go as far as the House-passed measure. It was blocked last year by Senate Democrats, a fact that Republicans are emphasizing.

The GOP's Justice Act would step up compliance by law enforcement in submitting use-of-force reports to a national database. It also would require compliance reports for no-knock warrants, like the kind officers used to enter the residence when Breonna Taylor was killed in Kentucky.

The Democratic and Republican bills do share some provisions, including a measure making lynching a federal hate crime.

Talks in recent weeks have centered on one of the main differences, the limits on the public's ability to sue law enforcement officers under "qualified immunity." One alternative being discussed would allow police departments, rather than individual officers, to be held liable.

"I think that is a logical step forward," said Scott, putting more of the burden on the department rather than the officer.

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Feds arrest 10 men suspected in Southern Illinois child sex crimes
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CARBONDALE — In a month's time, federal authorities have arrested 10 suspects for child sex crimes, in which many are accused of trying to rape minors.

Nine men were arrested for various child sex crimes relating to the trafficking or solicitation of persons under the age of 18, according to federal court documents from Illinois’ Southern District.

All nine were apprehended in Massac County. One man was arrested for sending child pornography to an agent in Williamson County.

When asked about the recent surge in child abuse arrests, Nathan Stump, a spokesperson for the Southern District, would not comment on specific investigations but said that crimes against children are a priority of the office.

Stump said recent changes in staffing have made this effort more robust.

“There is no special grant funding involved in our child sex-related prosecutions, but some recent staffing changes have afforded us more investigative and prosecutorial resources to devote to these operations than we might otherwise have had in the past,” Stump wrote in an email to The Southern Wednesday.

Ages and addresses for the suspects were not available in court records.

Jonathan Ericksen was arrested March 12 in Metropolis after allegedly agreeing to meet with a person he thought to be a 15-year-old girl to rape her. He was charged with attempted enticement of a minor.

Neal R. Weems was also arrested March 12 in Metropolis. He was also arrested for attempted enticement of a minor after allegedly messaging with a federal agent acting as a minor girl advertising sex online.

Also arrested March 12 in Metropolis for attempted solicitation of a minor were Jason S. Gonzalez, William A. Thornton and Charles R. Swenney.

Nichalous A. Coovert, Brandon T. Baader, Derrick A. Barefield and Michael Burklow were all arrested individually on March 13 in Metropolis — each for attempted solicitation of a minor.

The nine men arrested for allegedly attempting to solicit a minor all had similar stories.

They responded to online ads on various social media platforms like MeetMe, Skout and Kik for hookups with young men or women.

However, after connecting with online users who were actually FBI online covert employees, the men were told the user was younger than advertised — many said they were 15.

Snippets of the men’s text conversations with the agents were included in the federal court documents. The chats were mostly friendly with the men exchanging pleasantries and photos with the feds.

“Wow! You are going to be a beautiful woman,” Ericksen wrote to a person he allegedly thought was a 15-year-old girl, records state.

A number of the men expressed concern the meet-up was a sting by law enforcement.

Police: FedEx shooter bought guns legally

INDIANAPOLIS — The former employee who shot and killed eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally bought the two rifles used in the attack despite red flag laws designed to prevent such purchases, police said.

“So are you working with the cops to get guys busted.” Baader allegedly asked.

“Not at all. Are u a cop. Quit being a lame. If your interested let me know if not by,” the OCE responded.

Baader clarified.

“I’m interested but I’m not trying to go to jail either,” he allegedly said.

Sweeney appeared to also be concerned.

“I’m not going to jail am I lol,” he allegedly texted to the federal OCE.

“F--- I hope not lol. Id be in deep s---,” the OCE replied.

“That would make two of us,” Sweeney allegedly said.

The tenth suspect, Benjamin D. Rumbo, was arrested April 7 for allegedly sending images of children under the age of 10 being raped or otherwise sexually abused by adults to a federal agent in Williamson County, federal documents stated.

This most recent sweep comes just a month after federal authorities arrested five Southern Illinois men on similar charges.