A group of roughly 40 protestors, most of them Oak Park and River Forest High School students, staged a peaceful sit-in at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., on the afternoon of Feb. 26 after marching out of the high school that morning.
The march was designed to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, as well as other black and brown individuals killed unjustly. The man accused of killing Martin, George Zimmerman, controversially was acquitted of murder.
Wednesday’s march was the second annual Martin commemoration. Antoine Ford, the OPRF student who organized both marches, said that he and his peers had four specific demands that they presented to village officials.
They want the village of Oak Park to reallocate resources currently earmarked for police to other purposes, adopt a racial equity policy, remove Oak Park Police officers from OPRF and declare a day of recognition for Trayvon Martin and other minorities like him who have been killed unjustly.
When asked to specify which resources he and his peers want reallocating, Ford said that the department should reconsider spending money to renovate and expand its current police station underneath village hall.
“They need to put that money toward things like housing for single mothers,” Ford said.
Addressing the group’s demand for the removal of police at OPRF, who serve in the form of school resource officers (SROs), Ford said that many students “feel intimidated and criminalized” by the police presence.
District 200 and the village of Oak Park maintain the SRO program jointly through an intergovernmental agreement, with D200 paying the village roughly $155,000 to operate the program in the 2019-20 school year.
Community members, along with officials from D200 and the village, have expressed concerns about the presence of the officers, who have been inside of the high school since 1999, after the Columbine High School shooting, said Cara Pavlicek, Oak Park’s village manager. Both boards took steps earlier this month indicating that more comprehensive action on the SRO program could be taken in the future.
The group of protestors sat inside of the main floor of village hall for most of the afternoon, demanding to talk to Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who was not present in the building. The students wanted the mayor to sign a form that included their list of demands.
Pavlicek said she explained to the protestors that the mayor, who holds the position on a part-time basis, does not have an office at the village hall and would not have been able to make it to the building in a timely fashion.
“My point of view is everyone has the right to protest and everyone has the right to express their views, including our students,” said Mayor Abu-Taleb during a phone interview on Feb. 27. “I am sorry I was not there to talk to them. I wish I was. I am happy to sit down with them, to talk to them at their convenience and listen to their concerns and hear them out.”
By 4:40 p.m., the students had left village hall to discuss further action. More as this story develops.