In August, a resolution came before the Oak Park Village Board that would have begun defunding the police department — reducing its funding and shifting those funds to social services. The “Freedom to Thrive” resolution set the goal of “reducing the amount spent on policing in the village of Oak Park by defunding the Oak Park Police Department such that we reduce the number of budgeted sworn officers during the FY2021 budget cycle, and commit to further reductions in future budget cycles.” During the village board meeting, the resolution was ultimately, and unfortunately, defeated with a vote of 5-2.
During this meeting, the Oak Park chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police provided a statement against the resolution, which said in part:
“The resolution punishes your fellow public servants for a crime committed in another state. We share a border with Chicago. Defunding the Oak Park Police Department will have the same effect as hanging an ‘open for crime’ sign at our village limits. This resolution specifically targets a group of citizens because of the color of uniform they wear.”
This statement contains numerous biased and misdirecting ideas. First, the notion that reducing funding is a punishment to police speaks to the sense of entitlement that the FOP has about the role of police officers in this community. Police officers do not have the right to a certain amount of funding, and reducing that funding is not a punishment for them.
Next, the idea that decreasing the number of Oak Park police officers would suddenly trigger crime to pour in from Chicago is not only an erroneous idea, it is a racist idea, created from the fiction that residents of Austin are waiting to rush into our community to take what we have, rather than the truth that they are our fellow citizens trying to do the best they can by their families.
And finally, to say that police officers are targeted because of “the color of uniform they wear” is a clear and direct reference to the real targeting of Black people because of the color of their skin. And this false comparison — real prejudice against Black people, who were born into their heritage, with fictitious prejudice against police officers, who choose to put on a certain uniform — is horrendous. This is the same thing as using the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” in response to Black Lives Matter, the same as claiming that “reverse racism” against white people is the problem instead of racism against Black people, Latinx people, and other people of color.
Some of us like to believe that this type of prejudice does not exist in Oak Park, but here we have more evidence that it is alive and well. And it indicates the clear opposition that we face in our work for racial justice.
The “Freedom to Thrive” resolution was defeated, but the drive to reduce police funding in Oak Park is not dead. To push it forward, we need to listen to young people, such as those in the organization ROYAL, who make clear the real harm that police inflict on Black people here in Oak Park and continue to build the case that many of the roles we have assigned police can be best accomplished by other people — social workers, mental health counselors, and others.
If we listen and if we keep pushing, we can make the goal of defunding the Oak Park police a reality.
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.