Police chiefs usually speak in code. Protect themselves. Protect their officers. Don’t give much away when answering a direct question from a reporter or a citizen about some aspect of worrisome policing.
Oak Park has a case like that at this moment. A young man with developmental disabilities, African American, left his Humphrey Avenue home on Dec. 20 heading to his job at Rush Oak Park Hospital. He was going to take an Uber. Isaiah Sims, known to most as Peanut, thought it was his Uber pulling up in front of his house. He knocked three times on the car door. That is when he alleges the car’s driver, actually a neighbor on the block, a white man, got out of the car and began beating him up. Mr. Sims’ mother, hearing the commotion outside her home, looked out and reports seeing a man getting off another man now on the ground. She realized it was her son who had been battered and called 911.
Here’s where the worrisome policing comes in.
Sharita Galloway, young Sims’ mom, claims that when police arrived they approached the alleged perpetrator, ignoring her injured son.
“I feel like we weren’t treated fairly because when I called the police and when they came down the street, the white guy, the attacker, raised his hand and the police addressed him first before addressing us,” Galloway said. That would be hard to take when your son is visibly bruised and bleeding.
Now back to Police Chief LaDon Reynolds. He spoke last week at the village board meeting after a group of residents strongly objected to the treatment Isaiah Sims received. Reynolds, still new in his post though a veteran of the department, said he had spoken previously to Sims and Galloway and “was very disturbed about what happened to him, not only because he was the victim of a crime but,” and here comes the non-coded language we admire, “I was not enthused about how we handled the situation, so I’ve opened up an internal investigation.”
“I was not enthused.”
That would hang in the air around a police station. No mention of extenuating circumstances or, perhaps there was a mix-up. Instead a clear signal which we interpret as implicit bias, systemic racism, plain old racism of the type that infects us all and is still at work in our police department. And for a police chief to effectively acknowledge that is critical.
Now, because acknowledgement is important but not enough, we’ll follow this through the internal investigation and hope for transparency in explaining what happened. This is not necessarily about looking for harsh discipline. It is about facing up to the inevitable reality that racism is at work, that overcoming it starts with admitting it.