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‘Your story is my story’: Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth joins survivors to remember victims of crime

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth speaks alongside survivors of crime at Wednesday’s event.
Maggie Strahan
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Democrat from Peoria, speaks alongside survivors of crime at Wednesday’s event in Springfield.

Over 200 survivors of crime met in Springfield on Wednesday, joining lawmakers to demand better trauma services for victims across the state.

Many survivors bussed in from Peoria, where violent crime has been on the rise.

The event, called Survivors Speak Illinois, was organized by the group Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice and moderated by director Aswad Thomas. Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, or CSSJ, is a nationwide network of crime survivors advocating for crime and violence prevention.

CSSJ Chicago chapter coordinator Bertha Purnell described the group’s philosophy to reform public safety.

“True public safety is not possible without first supporting victims. Let me just say that again, because that's really important. True public safety is not possible without support first supporting victims and meeting their needs,” said Purnell.

While not pushing for any specific legislation, Thomas said Wednesday’s event aimed to help victims share their stories and their needs with lawmakers and their communities.

“We need trauma recovery. We need mental health services. We need prevention programs. But we also need to invest in the organizations in this role, to help survivors get the services that they need to heal and recover from crime,” said Thomas.

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, joined CSSJ at Wednesday's event to share her own experiences. Gordon-Booth lost her stepson to gun violence in 2014. She shared her story of waiting in the hospital while doctors tried to save him, to a chorus of agreement from the crowd.

“The doctor walks in, takes off his surgical hat, puts it on his chest and says a bunch of words that don't matter. Because all you remember is they told you that they did all that they could. But your baby's gone,” Gordon-Booth said.

Echoing sentiments repeatedly brought up by the General Assembly’s Black Caucus and the Illinois ACLU, Gordon-Booth also asserted that increased punishments for perpetrators won't bring crime rates down.

“We are going to continue to fight for trauma services and for healing, but you can't incarcerate your way out of this. You can't prosecute your way out of this. We have to heal our community,” said Gordon-Booth.

Gordon-Booth has championed criminal justice reform legislation in the past and says she will work with survivors to create more resources for the trauma they've experienced.

She was joined by several other members of the Black Caucus, including Sens. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, Robert Peters, D-Chicago, and State Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago. The Black Caucus led the charge on comprehensive public safety reform in last year's SAFE-T Act.

During Wednesday’s event, Sims, Peters, and Slaughter were honored by the CSSJ and given the “Champion for Safety and Justice” award for their leadership on the SAFE-T Act and other legislative efforts to prevent violence and crime across the state.

Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.