Days after a protest for police reform outside of Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb’s house devolved into vandalism, the Mayor and most of the board vigorously condemned the acts and called for those responsible to step forward.
Meanwhile, the youth activists who organized the protest have insisted that the board look beyond last week’s property destruction and deal with the systemic mistreatment of Oak Park’s Black residents.
On Aug. 25, a crowd of at least 100 protestors, most of them young people, gathered outside the home of Mayor Abu-Taleb to demand that the village commit to defunding the police in 2021.
While protestors chanted right outside of his front door and roughly a dozen sitting on the steps leading to his porch, the mayor presided over a virtual meeting of the village board where a resolution calling for measures similar to what the protestors were demanding was the first item on the table.
“We want him to pass the Freedom to Thrive resolution today,” said Chloe Leach, a member of the Revolutionary Oak Park Youth League, or ROYAL, an organization formed last year by middle- and high-school students.
The resolution up for a vote, sponsored by Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, was not the Freedom to Thrive resolution, but included proposals similar to what that activist group demands.
Freedom to Thrive Oak Park is an organization formed “in response to the Oak Park police racially profiling our Black and Latinx community members,” according to the organization’s website.
Walker-Peddakotla’s resolution called for decreasing the number of sworn police officers in the village over time and reallocating police funds toward social services.
By around 7 p.m., there were no uniformed police officers outside the mayor’s home, although Oak Park Police Commander Shatonya Johnson, who was wearing plain clothes, talked with protestors gathered on the mayor’s porch.
A woman who lives across the street from the mayor confronted the protestors and asked them about their demands. She also criticized their tactics.
“I think they’re being very disrespectful by sitting on his porch,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “I understand their need to protest, but they can do it from the parkway back. I’m not asking them to leave.”
The protestors reached their boiling point when the board voted 5-2 against the defunding measure.
The mayor told Wednesday Journal many of the protestors may have had experiences with the police, which spurred them to protest.
“I understand why they want to protest, and I’m all for that,” Abu-Taleb said. “But one does not violate other people’s rights and civil liberties in order to seek a change.”
In Abu-Taleb’s backyard, protestors reportedly smashed potted plants, tore up tomato cages, overturned patio furniture and threw eggs at the house. They also drew and spray-painted the sidewalks with pictures of hands raising middle fingers and pigs.
Abu-Taleb told Wednesday Journal he was home alone for most of the meeting and texted his family not to come home to avoid confrontation with protestors. His wife, he said, came home anyway and at one point was confronted on their front porch by four or five young people, some without masks, who stood inches away from her face.
Trustees Deno Andrews, Simone Boutet, Susan Buchanan, Dan Moroney and Jim Taglia signed a joint statement to Wednesday Journal condemning the acts of vandalism. Walker-Peddakotla’s name was not on the statement.
Abu-Taleb said he thinks Walker-Peddakotla was behind the protest and that her refusal to sign the statement substantiated his claim. Walker-Peddakotla has insisted that she had nothing to do with the protest, but she wouldn’t condemn it.
“I won’t denounce this protest just as I will not denounce the unrest that is happening in Chicago,” Walker-Peddakotla wrote. “I will never denounce an oppressed group saying, ‘Enough.'”
In a follow-up interview, Walker-Peddakotla said village government “has failed,” adding that even local school districts have enacted racial equity policies more quickly than the board.
“Even the schools, in all of their resistance, did the right thing earlier this summer in removing the police and ending the contracts between police and schools, which is what so many protestors across the nation are asking for,” she said. “They’re moving in the right direction. We at the village board are not.”
Makayla Pye, 16, a junior at OPRF and one of the organizers, said protesters were “upset and disappointed by the message” sent by the village board defeating the defund police measure.
“We are trying to have a conversation with the mayor,” she said. “We have tried to set up meetings. But we can’t be complacent. They can’t ignore people who live here.”
Pye said officials have laughed at their efforts.
“I feel ignored. That my voice does not matter. Young people of color are criminalized by police and residents” in Oak Park, said Pye, who is also a member of ROYAL.
During a press conference held Aug. 28, at Fox Park, 624 S. Oak Park Ave., a few dozen people spoke out in support of the protestors while denouncing the actions of some village officials.
Four former members of the Oak Park Community Relations Commission also spoke out in support of ROYAL.
In July, six of the commission’s seven mAt last Friday’s press conference, those former members repeated their earlier criticisms of the board and urged community members to consider the work that ROYAL did before last week’s protest, which included hosting multiple demonstrations, writing letters and making public comments during board meetings.
“The Black and Brown youth here have been criminalized and delegitimized,” said Pye. “This whole response to the work we do is modern-day racism. It’s racism in a subtle and sneaky way. … It’s sad that people are more upset at an egg thrown at a house and some broken plants than the fact that the youth don’t feel safe. We don’t feel safe.”