Sparked by the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the shooting of Jacob Blake, and cries of too many families because of police violence, widespread protests and alarm continue to grow in many parts of the country. People of virtually all races are calling for criminal justice reform and an end to police brutality. Astute legislatures in many jurisdictions are listening and taking action. Illinois is no exception. On September 1, the Illinois Senate Criminal Law and Special Committee on Public Safety held its first joint hearing on police use of force and training. Among the select list of expert witnesses invited to testify before members of the Senate and House was Samuel V. Jones, a professor of law and associate dean at UIC Law.
Jones, a former U.S. Marine infantryman and U.S. Army Military Police Captain, and now a legal expert regarding police accountability and practices, addressed a range of topics, including the degree to which political figures seek support from police, the value of adopting a duty to “de-escalate,” and greater protection from retaliation for “officers that report police misconduct.” He advised that “deadly force should be used only when necessary and as a last resort to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”
Jones informed lawmakers of the threat posed by white supremacists and urged them to consider reports that indicate white supremacists are serving in many police departments. He also spoke zealously regarding police interaction with people with disabilities. “Police officers should exercise special care when interacting with individuals with reported or known physical, mental or developmental disabilities because an individual’s disability may affect their ability to understand or comply with a police officer’s commands,” said Jones.
Among the highlights of his testimony, Jones spoke in great detail regarding racial disparities relative to police use of force. He provided data regarding the disproportionate number of African Americans that have been stopped, frisked, shocked with police tasers or killed by police relative to others. Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, who participated in the hearing, remarked, “As we take a comprehensive approach to reforming our criminal justice system it is critical that we address the disproportionate impact that police practices have on underserved communities. We must enhance public safety, but also eradicate racism to effectively protect the human and civil rights of all people.”
The hearing was viewed by a number of interested citizens, including UIC Law Student Senator, Fredrick Joshua. “It was quite inspiring to see Dean Jones testify so powerfully about a matter of such great importance to many of us at the Law School,” Joshua said. “He is such a great leader and scholar. He’s what many of us aspire to become after graduation. I now feel more optimistic about criminal justice reform.”
Jones has been widely quoted in various publications addressing police conduct and has appeared on multiple TV news platforms, including NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Chicago Tonight and Huffington Post Live. He continues to work with the Illinois Congressional Black Caucus and Illinois House counsel on various measures relative to police accountability. When asked about his commitment to reform, Jones explained, “I am profoundly convinced that greater police accountability and oversight will facilitate increased trust and confidence between our officers and the communities they serve and ultimately save lives and money across all spectrums. We’re all Americans. We can never lose sight of that fundamental truth.”