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Illinois: Falsely imprisoned Johnnie “Khalif” Veal paroled after 50 years

Commentary by Jazmine Salas |
February 28, 2021
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Springfield, IL - By an 8-5 vote, the Illinois Parole Board issued Johnnie “Khalif” Veal parole. Johnnie "Khalif" Veal has been falsely imprisoned since 1970. He is accused of killing a Chicago police officer, but he was convicted on no evidence.

This morning's February 25 meeting was filled with reflections from the parole board members and testimony from Khalif's supporters. A dozen uniformed Chicago police officers filled the room and the area outside of the hearing, but Khalif's supporters and family remained undeterred. We knew that the evidence of the case, along with our current political context, meant Khalif had the best chance he's ever had for parole. Most importantly, we know his innocence.

The parole hearing began at 9 a.m. with a member of the parole board reading the facts of the case. Two board members responded. The first mentioned the context of Cabrini Green and said that she believed the Chicago police coerced the witnesses that tied Khalif to the murder. The second board member pointed to Khalif’s age at the time of the conviction. Khalif was convicted at 17, and this board member said that is proof of his rehabilitation. Both also acknowledged the strong parole plan, and one said it was the strongest they had seen in years.

Testimonies from both sides followed the discussion. Sara Garber, Khalif's lawyer, spoke about Khalif’s role in prison mentoring other incarcerated individuals and the respect he receives from his fellow inmates and Hill Corrections staff. She specifically mentioned a time when Khalif was asked to mentor a person with a mental disability who was about to be released. Khalif has used his time in prison to improve the lives of others and has had a lasting impact on many. Garber also spoke to Khalif’s remorse about his time in a gang. She ended by discussing another paroled inmate who had suddenly died. She was reminded of Khalif's case and the length of his incarceration. He has lost many close family members, including his daughter, who passed in 2019. We are currently in the middle of a pandemic, and COVID-19 is spreading in prison. "We cannot wait to do the right thing," stated Garber.

Khalif's granddaughter, Peaches, spoke to the role that he has played in her life as a father figure. After the passing of the mother, Peaches said that Khalif is all that she has. She said, "my mother never got to take a walk in the park with her father and never got to hold his hand." She said she doesn't want to lose him and wants to be with him in a way her mother never could.

The other side presented testimonies from two relatives of the victims. One of them said, "a civilized society will always stand behind law enforcement." The second, a niece of the victim, said that "some things are unforgivable." She said we must disregard the political aspects of this case and stick to the facts. A member of the parole board seconded the niece's comments and spoke about how painful it was for him to previously parole a person accused of murdering a Chicago police officer. I couldn't help but think about how, in our current political climate, supporting the police is in itself a political act. From packing the room with current Chicago police to the testimonies from the victim's families who thanked the Chicago Police Department multiple times, politics was clearly present.

Additionally, CPD has created this false narrative that Khalif was a violent person. The victim’s niece even alleged that Khalif had previously tortured someone and had committed multiple felonies before his arrest. This is not the first time that Khalif has been up for parole or appeals, and the police will always mobilize their officers in opposition. Many of these officers are young and are only motivated by this narrative that because Khalif grew up in Cabrini Green and joined a gang for survival, he must be a morally bad person who automatically committed the crime. Injustices experienced by Black and Latinx people are always dismissed as political, yet the Chicago Police Department’s political actions are acceptable and, in some cases, even honorable.

A motion was put on the floor to deny Khalif's parole. The board voted 5-8 against the motion, and Khalif was granted parole. He will be coming home to his partner, grandchildren and group of friends and supporters who have been fighting for his release. Today is a major victory.

Jazmine Salas is a co-chair of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and was present at the parole board hearing in Springfield.