Last week top officials in the River Forest Police Department live-streamed a social justice forum. There’s another session scheduled for July 8. Chief Jim O’Shea and his deputies laid out details on how incidents of use of force have played out in the village in recent years. Among the specifics discussed was the use of a taser on a suspect nine times since 2017.
Also spelled out was the local data from the Illinois Traffic Stop Study. This state mandated reporting records of all traffic stops and specifies the race of those pulled over. In 2018, presumably the most recent year the statistics have been reported, River Forest cops stopped white drivers 1,618 times and minority drivers 2,744 times. Quite a discrepancy given the low percentage of Blacks living in the village. During the session, though, officials made the case that a statistic I never knew existed, the Estimated Minority Driving Population, reports that minorities make up 59 percent of local drivers, which is in range of the 63 percent of overall traffic stops for people of color.
Now you can trust this information or you can hold to the perception that River Forest cops heavy up on Black drivers passing through town between the city and Maywood. But at least we have the statistics and the official police interpretation.
Good for River Forest and its police leadership for being out front on the critical issue of police accountability at this critical moment.
Over in Oak Park, the progressive bastion of timidity, things are mainly quiet — as in crickets quiet. The only public discussion was a train wreck of a village board meeting last week which produced heat, no light and an outcome — “Let’s hire a consultant to audit the police department” — that I believe could use a forensic parliamentarian to sort out if all seven members of the village board knew what they were voting on.
A side note to Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, a person I admire: A male elected official can never tell an elected female official to “calm down.” Never.
That directive was aimed at Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla.
A side note to Trustee Walker-Peddakotla: Listen to your colleague who said you are winning the discussion of community safety. What was a bold, and to many unsettling, demand months ago that Oak Park fully rethink policing and focus on community safety is now the only conversation on the nation’s table — OK, other than the pandemic, an economic collapse and Trump as president.
So take the win, shape the conversation, draw in the multitudes of white Oak Parkers who, for the moment, have their eyes open to the reality of systemic racism.
Meanwhile, back at the seeming decision by the board to ask the manager to craft a Request for Proposal to hire a consultant, which everyone agrees might take three months to accomplish, I have to ask, is this really the right way to go? Or is this a defensive crouch meant to avoid more chaotic board meetings?
A simple thought: Let’s listen. Let’s start by listening. Let’s start by having faith that Oak Park residents, in the right and welcoming setting, can share their policing experiences, what troubles them, worries them for their kids, satisfies them.
Let’s see if we can pull off the same listening effort with our police officers. This will be harder for so many reasons. But where do Oak Park officers feel threatened? What sort of calls would they like to offload or add on more expertise?
And out of listening — and likely we need a paid consultant to facilitate these listening sessions — we can focus on what isn’t working, where the friction lives. It might not, for Oak Park, be in use of force. Both Walker-Peddakotla and Chief LaDon Reynolds seemed to agree last week that use of force is not a primary issue. But let’s get the chief talking more, and opening up the citizen complaints and the disciplinary outcomes, about what he says is the most common issue: Courtesy. Now what on earth does that mean? What sins does that cover?
Let’s find out. Let’s listen. Let’s talk. Let’s innovate.
And let’s start right away.