Because I live in Oak Park, it can be easy to take racial and social justice for granted, believing that many of the things we hear about on the news wouldn’t happen here. Yesterday, I witnessed something in River Forest, which reminded me that these injustices happen here in our community, too.

I arrived at Ulta Beauty, Harlem and Lake, a few minutes before they opened in the morning. There were a few others waiting with me, one of whom was a young black man holding a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. Per the norm of 2016, we were all lost in the worlds of our phones, when I noticed a River Forest police officer drive up and approach the man with the flowers. He began questioning him immediately about why he had flowers and what he was doing there. 

The man explained that the flowers were for his girlfriend, and he was waiting to get into Ulta to get some gifts for her. Another police officer pulled up, and asked for identification, took the man’s identification, and continued questioning the man (in a redundant manner), asking whether he was trying to sell flowers illegally. The young man kept explaining that he wanted to get some flowers and gifts for his girlfriend. Eventually, after running his identification, they drove off, but not before making a spectacle of this young man who just wanted to do something sweet for his girlfriend.

Once inside the store, I noticed a sales person helping this same man pick out some gifts for his girlfriend. Upon being asked to help another customer and therefore having to leave the man, the sales woman spoke to her fellow employees on her headset, saying sternly, “Do not leave his side.” The naïve side of me wished to believe that they simply wanted to make sure he got his girlfriend the best gift possible, but it was clearly yet another incident of this young man being racially profiled.

It’s hard to decide where to begin, in discussing how many ways this young man was wronged by various members of our community that day, so I will simply say that it is not OK, period. It probably goes without saying that if he had been white, he wouldn’t have been stopped by the police or followed around by a suspicious saleswoman in Ulta. 

We can do better than this, Oak Park/River Forest community, and we should. If we remain silent on these issues, if we don’t call them out when we see them, then we are bystanders, complicit in the hatred and inequality. 

Gabrielle Brady Pendley

Oak Park

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