Allow me to share my truth with you. Yes, I am a state representative of a major municipality in the State of Illinois. A position that brings influence and the power to convene; it is also a position that is often viewed as corrupt based on history — and I understand that.
But I am also a black man, a husband and a dad. As a matter of fact, I am the only black legislator in the northernIllinois region, so often my posture is different because of my own personal lived experiences.
I know how it feels to be judged before my mouth opens simply because of my dark skin and large physique. To this day, I find myself in rooms where my local counterparts are acknowledged, and I am forgotten.
I can’t talk to my colleagues about this, they will never understand because they are white men. That’s been my truth all my life and I, along with a lot of you, have learned to live with it.
I bring this up so that you can understand why it’s hard for me to fully support and appreciate this quote from State’s Attorney J Hanley concerning the misinformation that was shared with you regarding the SAFE-T Act;“I regrettably probably contributed to this in a way that I do regret. … It’s not going to be a purge.”
It’s hard for me to accept the walk back because the misinformation that was spread about this legislation strategically led people down a path to think of dark-skinned people being let out of jail to destroy our community.
Once that bell is rung, you can’t un-ring it.
Consider the Rockford Sun. A fake newspaper that we found in our mailboxes shortly before Election Day with pictures of black and brown individuals to put the “fear of god” in you concerning the bill.
I saw yard signs that read, “Don’t let the Black Caucus write our laws.” They mentioned the “end of days” and “the purge” and now that Election Day has come and gone, a deafening silence.
Now, let’s apologize and pretend that all is well?
My only desire is to protect our community. Protecting our community is protecting my daughter, my wife, and my parents. Protecting our community is protecting the people that I love, and the people that you love.
And yet here’s the truth: this misinformation campaign has led to confusion and anger in our community and threats to me and my family personally — especially since I can’t hide the color of my skin.
My skin tone, in some eyes, means that I’m anti-police; even when my message has consistently focused on restoring trust between our law enforcement community and all community members.
Because of this misinformation, my faith was questioned, my life threatened, and the N-word was used so expressively and easily by some. All while my fellow local elected leaders, on both sides of the aisle, threw me under the bus for their political survival.
I get it. It’s politics and this is an occupational hazard in this arena. And I’m still standing.
But to those of you who are not elected leaders: I humbly ask that you consider your source moving forward. Even if that source is me.
Verify that the words that are coming out of my mouth are valid before we share misinformation. Let’s not be influenced, but informed.
To my fellow elected leaders, to States Attorney Hanley, let us strive to do better and be better. The end of misinformation in government starts with us.
Let’s focus on the power of convening rather than division. To our law enforcement officers who strive todo good, be good, and value and respect every community member that you are charged to protect — I value and respect you.
Now, let’s get back to work for the betterment of our community.
State Rep. Maurice A. West II, D-Rockford, represents the 67th District.