During an intense and unusual virtual meeting Tuesday, Aug. 25, the Oak Park village board defeated a resolution to defund the Oak Park Police Department in a 5-2 vote.
The discussion was relatively calm by the current board’s standards, but tension was high as a group of protesters, largely young people, advocating for defunding gathered outside Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb’s home while the meeting was in session. The meeting was briefly adjourned after the vote and never reconvened to consider other agenda items.
Village Clerk Vicki Scaman read multitudes of submitted public comments both for and against defunding the police department.
The resolution to defund the police was brought to the board by Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla who told the board her definition of defunding the police department meant reallocating funds to additional social services.
Harm committed by Oak Park police against the Black and Brown community “isn’t about a knee on the neck,” Walker-Peddakotla told the board, but about the racial profiling conducted by police, who stop Black and Brown people inordinately more than white people.
“Those stops absolutely do cause trauma,” said Walker-Peddakotla.
At the conclusion of the board discussion but before the vote, Walker-Peddakotla thanked the village board for discussing such a weighty topic.
Walker-Peddakotla’s resolution, seconded by Trustee Susan Buchanan, called for broadening social services and lessening funding given to the police department over a period of years. The resolution did not specify a yearly or total amount by which to reduce police funding.
As part of the resolution, Walker-Peddakotla asked the board to “rescind policies that are being used to unfairly target Black youth in Oak Park” and to establish a “truly independent police oversight committee.”
Walker-Peddakotla said she would like the Oak Park Police Department switch to a restorative justice policing model as opposed to a punitive one.
Trustee Dan Moroney asked Walker-Peddakotla what her “end goal” was when it came to defunding the police department, as certain people throughout the nation conflate defunding with abolishing.
Walker-Peddakotla said she wanted to “reinvest that money” and “create services or expand services that already exist to limit police calls for situations that don’t require it.”
Moroney said he thought the resolution was vague and that police reform should be a unifying conversation.
Moroney said he believed the “ambiguous language” of the resolution was the reason why the issue was so divisive.
“We want proper policing,” Moroney said, adding that the board wanted all people in Oak Park to thrive.
Citing the UPS driver who was just robbed at gun point and a recent shooting, Moroney said, “How do those people – how do all the victims of crimes thrive when they have violations to their safety and their property?”
Moroney said crime in Oak Park had risen since 2015.
“We must ensure we protect the safety of our residents,” said Moroney. “Therefore
police play a role.”
The village board was united in wanting better policing for all of its visitors and residents and was making progress toward that goal, he said.
“I look forward to voting no on this resolution,” Moroney told the board said.
Trustee Simone Boutet also did not support the resolution despite voicing an understanding of the hardships faced by Black people in the United States.
“I don’t doubt that American society has failed Black people,” Boutet said.
While she also said she supported social services, she took issue with the resolution’s lack of specificity.
“I have the issue with this resolution being more political than policy-oriented because there’s nothing specific proposed,” Boutet said.
Boutet said Oak Park police already partner with many social service providers but wanted to know how they work together and whether they received adequate funding.
She also warned against bringing national issues to the board table that do not relate directly to the Oak Park community.
“It’s not fair to take national issues and bring them to Oak Park as if they’re universally applicable,” Boutet said.
Trustee Jim Taglia did not back the resolution but stated his willingness to continue addressing and learning about issues with policing faced by Black and Brown people.
“I’m going to work hard to get the right answers,” Taglia said.
The resolution had a supporter in Buchanan, who acknowledged that the resolution was imperfect and said that she was in “no way” criticizing the Oak Park police department.
In his experience working with ex-felons, Trustee Deno Andrews said he learned that most people commit crimes only because they have to and thanked Walker-Peddakotla for driving the board to discuss issues related to race and policing.
“I think we’re having these discussions mostly because of your work, Arti,” Andrews said. “You’ve been a lightning bolt bringing these issues to light.”
However, Andrews did not back the resolution stating that it contained multiple parts that would work better as individual resolutions.
“While I’ll vote no on the resolution tonight – I am 100 percent committed, you have my word – to have these discussions,” Andrews said, “to make educated and measured decisions to reduce trauma and boost public safety.”
Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb began his comments by saying that everyone on the board wanted to do the right thing for the community and that he supported social services and police.
The meaning of defunding the police, the mayor said, has a “whole range of answers depending on who you ask.”
Abu-Taleb apologized to those who have experienced emotional and physical trauma at the hands of police and said he understood, based on his own life experience and where he grew up, why they may feel it necessary to defund police.
“I understand why you would be calling to defund the police but defunding the police, partially or entirely, will not remedy your concerns and will not resolve the challenges in front of us today,” said Abu-Taleb.
For those reasons, Abu-Taleb said he could not support the resolution.
“But I am committed to making the changes that need to be made,” he said.
At this point in the meeting, noise from the protestors outside his home appeared to have caused Abu-Taleb to lose his train of thought slightly while delivering the rest of his comments.
“We must rise to the occasion and we must do the responsible thing and I view public safety as our number one priority,” the mayor said, before the vote was taken.
Ultimately the resolution did not pass as Taglia, Boutet, Abu-Taleb, Moroney and Andrews voted against it.
Due to the protest outside Abu-Taleb’s home, the board took a brief recess. Abu-Taleb did not return to the meeting. Village Manager Cara Pavlicek asked that the meeting’s remaining agenda items be tabled until a later date; those items included discussion of the Citizen Police Oversight Committee and the request for proposal to hire an independent contractor to perform an audit of the police department.