Oak Park resident Kevin Peppard has filed objections against the candidacies of Anthony Clark and Chibuike Enyia for Oak Park Village Trustee in the April 6 municipal election. Over the years, Mr. Peppard has filed numerous objections against various candidates for village offices.
However, in examining these current objections, we cannot understand them simply by comparing them to his past objections, or simply asking what Peppard’s motivation is. What we must ask now is how Mr. Peppard’s objections function in this moment.
We have just passed through 2020, the year of twin pandemics — racial and viral — that entwine with one another through higher levels of impact and mortality inflicted on Black communities and other communities of color.
In this moment, the objections of a white man to the only two Black men running for village trustee have a particular negative resonance. And as we delve deeper, we can see more problematic aspects to the charges Peppard is leveling. He is trying to get one Black man thrown off the ballot for alleged drug charges from over a decade ago, and another thrown off for residency issues stemming from his ownership of property in another municipality.
Because of cultural conditions in this country, Black men are more likely to have faced drug charges than white men who took the same actions. Because of these conditions, white men have been allowed to amass generational wealth that Black men have not, so therefore residency may not show up the same for every group.
We live in a country divided by race, so when we apply supposedly color-blind criteria like residency or criminal status, these criteria affect different racial groups differently. That is the issue at play in this case — the average Black resident of Oak Park is more likely to be affected by these issues than the average white resident.
An electoral board consisting of the village president, the most senior village trustee, and the village clerk will hear these objections at a hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 6. It is the role of this board to decide whether the candidates can stay on the ballot. I do not know what facts will come out in these cases, and I cannot speak to how these officials will decide them. However, I will say that if Clark and Enyia are removed from the ballot, the village of Oak Park and the upcoming municipal election will be poorer for it. And we will have yet another example of how our laws and legal processes have disproportionately negative impacts on Black male residents of this village, this state, and this nation.
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.