Oak Park trustees Arti Walker-Peddakotla and Dan Moroney clashed over racial profiling within the Oak Park Police Department during a special meeting held Sept. 23 to discuss board goals and protocol.
While discussing public safety within the context of village board goals, Walker-Peddakotla, elected last April, announced she didn’t see a necessity in making public safety a goal.
“I know I’m going to get voted down on this, so I’m not expecting anything, but I don’t agree that this should be a board goal, because I just don’t think we have a public safety problem,” Walker-Peddakotla said. “I think we have a racial-profiling problem in our police department that we need to focus on.”
She went on to say she is all for abolishing systems within the Oak Park Police Department that promote racial profiling and encourage racial bias, and she called for a “radical transformation.”
Trustee Simone Boutet argued that models to promote racially equitable policing were detailed within the recommendations given by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a group created by former President Barack Obama in 2014 in response to the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
Walker-Peddakotla said the task force did not sufficiently address racial inequities in policing and that by making public safety a board goal, village officials would give community members the impression that they are unsafe — a perception that could foster a fear of diversity among residents. Walker-Peddakotla also called for the board to prioritize reforming the Police Oversight Commission.
Moroney took issue with what he described as Walker-Peddakotla’s unsubstantiated claim that racial profiling was a problem within the police department.
“I just find it really important, if you’re going to make blanket statements, you need to have the data to back it up,” he said, adding that it’s “extraordinarily damning” to suggest racial profiling occurred within the police department.
“Without the actual data to back that up, it’s a hell of an accusation to our police department,” he said.
“I think it’s important to be very careful with our words, because I believe we have a heck of a police department,” Moroney said. “They deserve our praise rather than a blanket statement that damns the whole department.”
The trustee also said he is not for the radical transformation of the police department that Walker-Peddakotla proposed; instead, Moroney suggested that incremental improvements be made.
“I don’t believe our police department is a system of oppression,” Moroney said.
“While I don’t have quantitative data, I have qualitative data from kids who have said that they are tired of getting stopped for riding a bike,” Walker-Peddakotla said, referencing a series of public meetings held over the summer where many kids said they were angry about being stopped by police.
“That cannot be ignored,” she said. “What our kids are saying cannot be ignored.”
Moroney said he agreed with her in that regard, but that the need for a public safety goal is justified and necessary, citing “dozens” of carjackings per year.
“Mothers with children in the back of the car with a gun to their head, that’s scary,” Moroney said. “I think for us to bury our heads in the sand and say that public safety is not an important issue — we’re fooling ourselves and I will not give the community that message.”
“I do want to say when someone feels discriminated against or profiled against or not treated fairly, you can’t deny that,” said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. “There is something we can do for everyone to make them feel like they belong in Oak Park.”