The call to “defund the police” in Oak Park was a polarizing concept when Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla made it months back after the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.
And it was a still more polarizing concept when Trustee Dan Moroney last week surfaced the idea of placing a referendum on the issue on the April election ballot — a ballot on which Moroney will appear as a candidate for village president.
“Shall the village of Oak Park defund its police department?” is the referendum wording Moroney proposed in a Jan. 6 email to his board colleagues. That topic will be debated on Jan. 19, after our press deadline, when it is part of the village board agenda.
We won’t predict the outcome of board action — which must be taken promptly to meet the deadline for ballot measures — but we are comfortable in assuming that it will be an intense and disingenuous conversation which only further diminishes the level of discourse the current board specializes in.
Moroney’s board critics were right when they told the Journal that his proposal was a “political charade.” Its only goal is to rile up and divide Oak Park voters over an inauthentic and provocative stunt. This is the sort of divisive gimmick we’ve seen over four lost years from Washington. To see it land here in the week of the Inauguration of a more hopeful and adult leader in D.C. suggests we are still several months away from a hoped for fever break around here.
Actual community leaders — on either the conservative or more progressive ends of the spectrum — would frame a worthy, open-ended discussion asking Oak Parkers how they want to rethink policing in this village. We need to inspire our neighbors to acknowledge that, while Oak Park has a pretty good police force, systemic racism exists in local policing and must be rooted out. We need to talk about collaborations and partnerships that would fully connect police to resources best able to meet needs of residents. The current partnership with Thrive Counseling Center works on issues of mental health. The village government wrongly backed off support of the township’s Youth Interventionist program.
This is the discussion we need to have, that we are overdue to have, that our divided politics have prevented us from having, that a productive political campaign ought to allow us to debate.
Save us from cheap takes and disinformation.