Regarding the comments that I made in our board meeting on Monday night, June 1, I want to first say this, and to be clear about it:
One of my comments was taken out of context and does not accurately reflect what I said, how I feel, or who I am. What has been made of this comment by removing it from the entire context is divisive and destructive. Certain people have tried to make me out as racist, which could not be farther from the truth. Still, I am sorry for the pain that this misrepresentation has caused many of you — I did not and do not intend to minimize the pain and suffering that African Americans have endured through history and are going through right now nor to suggest that police mistreatment, especially of black men, is not an urgent problem in our country that needs to be solved and solved quickly. The full transcript of Monday’s meeting clearly shows the intent of my comments, as do earlier comments in the same meeting.
That said, to clarify what I stated on Monday, which, taken in full context, I stand behind:
What happened in Minneapolis last week is tragic, appalling, and symptomatic of wider, systemic racism within police departments across this country. Issues of racist behavior, racial bias, and racially motivated misuse and excessive use of force must change, and must change immediately. We all have work to do, not only to permanently correct these problems within police departments, but also to permanently correct these issues within our society.
I will not cast a blanket label of racism on our Oak Park police officers due to the actions of police officers in other communities, including Minneapolis. I have experienced law abiding, ethical law enforcement personnel in our own village’s police department and witnessed throughout this country those who serve and protect the communities they represent without an ounce of racial bias in their bones. I will judge our department and the actions of each officer on the basis of facts. Yet the countless number of other police misconduct and racial bias incidents throughout the history of this country is shameful and must stop, and Oak Park must work to ensure we prevent it here. I know so many officers here in Oak Park who, like me, are disgusted at what happened to George Floyd. I am confident they will join the effort to make change happen.
Racism, in all forms, is evil and has no place here in Oak Park. Every facet of life, from education, to employment, to the legal system and everything in between has left minorities, and particularly black Americans, at a disadvantage, which has effects that last generations. We all have a responsibility to address inequities wherever they are found and right them. We need healing in this country. We need awareness and understanding, empathy and love. It is time for this country to change.
Anan Abu-Taleb is mayor of the village of Oak Park.