The much-reported deaths have come in Ferguson and in Cleveland and in New York City. The underreported deaths have come from endless towns and cities. Young black men and boys, unarmed, killed in past weeks by police officers. On Sunday afternoon, in Oak Park and in cities across the nation, hundreds and thousands turned out with the simple declaration that Black Lives Matter.
In Scoville Park, perhaps 500, maybe 700 people, sang and spoke and marched. The majority were Oak Parkers but a good number of actively invited neighbors from Austin also took part, one of those good days when the perceived boundary that is Austin Boulevard is made rightly irrelevant.
This quickly mounted event — six days from thought to execution — was spurred by a core of Oak Park clergy united through membership in the Community of Congregations. A handful of ministers from Austin joined in. The word went out via social media and e-mail and the message resonated with good people who see the damage to the soul of our shared communities when disconnected cops turn on citizens they are sworn to serve and protect.
Detractors and those in active denial will rationalize and obfuscate. Michael Brown was an imperfect Ferguson teenager. Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes on the streets of New York City. We are not sure what lies could explain away the death of Tamir Rice, the Cleveland 12-year-old, shot while playing with a toy gun.
Racists will point to the scourge of black-on-black violence on the West Side as if that horror is some excuse for bad and violent policing. Racists will deny the very concept of white privilege and institutional prejudice.
That is why fair-minded people from every neighborhood, of all races, must stand up strong as they did on Sunday and demand that community policing practices, affirmative hiring and promotion practices become the simple norm in police departments across America. That is why efforts such as our own Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin’s call for a national commission to study our criminal justice system, and the many ways race and racism shoots through it, is important. It is why common-sense efforts such as the work of state Rep. LaShawn Ford to require that all toy guns be manufactured in vivid colors, not black and chrome, need support. It is why each effort to connect good people from the West Side and Oak Park in honest dialogue is vital.
This is no isolated spasm of protest. Social media will see to that. The proliferation of video cameras on street poles and in pockets will see to that. Hundreds gathered in a lovely park on a December Sunday will see to that.
Meanwhile, at OPRF …
Race is complicated (see above). But school board members, administrators, staff and students at Oak Park and River Forest High School continue to do the hard work of talking about race and, in this instance, its intersection with the school’s discipline system.
A five-hour retreat on the subject was held this month at the specific urging of Dr. Jackie Moore, a board member elected a year and a half ago. With paid facilitators leading the discussion among some 50 participants, some hard truths were told, including the reality that OPRF is more racially diverse than it is racially integrated.
There is no simple fix to disparities in discipline at OPRF. Black students are overrepresented in the system. At the same time, the behavior of a good many black students needs to shape up. But it is in frank discussions that progress can be made.