With protests and looting happening across the globe in response to a police officer killing Minnesota resident George Floyd, a group of Oak Park and River Forest High School seniors banded together to lead a peaceful protest at Oak Park’s village hall on May 31.
During the 40-minute event, organizers of the protest shared heartfelt messages to a crowd of around 200 attendees to express their outrage over law enforcement abusing their power at the expense of black and brown people. Members of the community held up signs that read “Black Power,” “Defund the Police,” “Black Lives Matter,” among others.
On an afternoon that was supposed to be dedicated to the Class of 2020 walking across the football field for graduation, the seniors decided to make the most out of the situation.
“I feel like Oak Park is an example,” said Trinity Anderson, lead organizer and graduating senior. “I was blessed to live here and get an amazing education that helped me learn about the things that are going on in this country. When I see things like [George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery’s deaths], it urges me to do something and it’s a responsibility. This was something that needed to be done.”
There were nine seniors who spoke at the protest. Among them was Leah Jones who listed off demands that she and others wants from the community.
“First, we want the police to be held responsible for hate crimes such as racial profiling, over policing and harassment,” said Jones. “OP law enforcement will follow and be held accountable according to the promises of the village of Oak Park’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Statement.”
Elise Beile was another speaker at the event and discussed her white privilege at the school she attended for four years.
“As a white girl who walked through OPRF, I never feared that I would be targeted by security guards or that my teachers would treat me a different way,” said Beile. “As a white girl, I don’t fear the police because I know that my skin is my shield. That is my white privilege.”
Along with nine seniors who spoke at the event, there were about 60 to 70 students who were sitting on the grass on the south side of the village hall campus. They wore matching white t-shirts that had “OPRF Senior Class of 2020” on the front.
“I think it’s easy for people who aren’t affected by [systemic racism] to be passive towards these situations,” said Aaron Brown. “Protests like these help them remember how important and relevant these issues are right now. They are happening now and it has been happening for years. Not much has changed and it is our job to keep it on everyone’s minds.”
There were no members of the police in uniform attending the protest. Anderson, who wanted to make sure everyone would be safe at the event, told Oak Park police she was planning on holding this event. According to Anderson, they brought garbage cans, a washing station for COVID-19 safety reasons, and opened bathrooms to the protesters.
“The thing about protesting is that if you have enemies, you don’t tell your enemy what you’re doing,” said Anderson. “If you have allies, you tell your ally what you are doing. I went to them and told them what was going on because we wanted to make sure there were no more people murdered, killed or arrested. We wanted it to be peaceful and it was.”