Carrie Newcomer wrote a poignant song entitled “A Simple Change of Heart.” I get goosebumps when she gets to the line, “The greatest revolution is a simple change of heart.” So true. The lyrics are below.
Compassion and love sometimes well up within us as a simple change of heart at unexpected moments, turning us to look differently at a situation where we hadn’t previously recognized a piece of truth. The work of social change calls for these moments, invites them, makes space for them. As one heart after another is touched by the suffering or needless struggle of others, then social change movements emerge.
It is awe-inspiring how marriage equality is sweeping through this country, all because there has been a critical yet simple change of heart in enough people. Personal stories, empathic stories, and honest sharing has won the day. When you know a couple who is truly committed and create so much love--and the state doesn’t provide the same protections as heterosexual couples--situations come up time and again that break our hearts. Now that enough honest sharing has broken through the veil of resistance that seeks to keep the status quo, we are seeing significant changes in our lifetime.
Here in the Chicago area, there is a specific situation that breaks my heart.
People who get arrested and can’t post bail must stay in Cook County jail for an average of 25 days before they are charged with a crime at their pre-trial hearing. Whether they’re innocent or not, people wait for nearly four weeks, many of whom have their cases dismissed. That’s a lot of taxpayer money needlessly wasted. But far worse, many of these people--a number of them innocent--lose jobs, lose housing, have families that become ever more strained, all because we have a criminal justice system here in the Chicago area that keeps people who can’t afford bail locked up for so long. When 42% of those arrested for drugs have their cases thrown out at the pre-trial hearing, that’s a lot of people who were locked up for nothing.
According to Illinois law, the county can keep someone locked up for a maximum of 30 days before a pre-trial hearing. This is the longest wait to be charged with a crime in the country. In New York, the maximum number of days someone can be held before a pre-trial hearing is 5. If New York can reform itself to respect due process, then we can in Illinois.
Over a year ago, I showed up with several hundred people to an action where we brought this gross injustice to the attention of several legislators. We requested that a law be developed and passed that reduces the number of days people can be held before pre-trial hearings--from 30 to 10. Illinois will still have among the highest maximums in the country, but it will be not only a meaningful change for a number of people but also it will free up huge amounts of taxpayers dollars.
Why did this draconian practice not get changed over the past year, even though many of us have protested and contacted our legislators? Why didn’t a law get introduced and passed for this state? There’s a lot of resistance to changing the system. There is one person who, if she had a simple change of heart, would make it possible to make such a law reality: Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
What is really upsetting to me is that on November 10, as part of the Reclaim Campaign to reduce violence and seek justice for some of the most vulnerable in our region, I joined dozens of other clergy and over a hundred laypeople at Anita Alvarez’s office to make specific requests, but she has repeatedly rebuffed meetings and not shown up.
There are multiple ways that Anita Alvarez has refused to act to reduce violence. It’s “deadly inaction.” Check out the Reclaim Campaign’s list of requests of Anita Alvarez in a clear and well articulated report entitled Deadly Inaction: How Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez Can Act to Prevent Violence--it is at https://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50480/images/Deadly_Inaction_Reclaim_Campaign_Nov2014.pdf.
So what can we do? There are two things. First, send prayerful but firm statements to Anita Alvarez that she recognize the draconian practice of locking up people who can’t post bail for four weeks before they are even charged with a crime. Why waste money and lives to keep a broken system going?
Second, show up with me and hundreds of others on March 19 at 4:30pm at 69 Washington. This won’t be the first demonstration in front of the office of the State’s Attorney to bring attention to this effort. But when we bring a wider coalition of people to express our deep concern how some of the most vulnerable people are being treated in our midst, then our concerns shall be heard.
When Anita Alvarez has a change of heart, a huge number of people will not have to wait so long for their pre-trial hearing. Taxpayer money will be saved and can be used for violence reduction efforts in Cook County!
Here are the lyrics of A Simple Change of Heart by Carrie Newcomer:
There's never been a day
When the world wasn't new
When the sun did not rise
Or the light break on through
Things might get a little worse
Before they get a little better
But there's always clearer skies
Stretching out beyond bad weather
And the world holds its breath
Just to see where we'll incline this time
I feel somethin' has shifted
I know the story's changed
In the window of a crisis
We can build a better frame
Come on and look inside you
It's the best place to start
And the greatest revolution
Is a simple change of heart
I can't put the sacred in such a little box
Because it's not
There's no shame in learnin' somethin'
When there's somethin' that must be learned
But there's danger when we will not see
What our actions earn
Courage doesn't always shout
But whispers and reminds
When we get up one long mornin'
And we try another time