The Oak Park Village Board election on April 6 is a pivotal one. At stake is whether the composition of the board shifts to a majority supported by defunding advocates, who fell just two votes short of defunding the police last August. 

Their effort was based on misleading information and unfounded conclusions in reports published by Freedom to Thrive Oak Park (FTTOP), a group that Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla helped found after winning her board seat two years ago. She received only 3,041 votes out of nearly 40,000 registered voters in Oak Park. Voter turnout is typically low in off-year elections which magnifies the votes of fringe and special-interest candidates and issues.

At the Aug. 25 meeting, Walker-Peddakotla introduced the disingenuous and baseless defunding resolution. Both Walker-Peddakotla and village president candidate Cate Readling, another FTTOP organizer, signed their names to a FTTOP form email sent to the board that called for a 27% reduction of the police force in fiscal 2021, committing to future cuts. Readling also made a public comment supporting the defunding resolution.

Besides FTTOP’s website, its misleading policing and social services information is also promoted on the website of Activate Oak Park (AOP), a political action committee co-founded by Walker-Peddakotla and another defunding advocate, financially supporting Anthony Clark, Chibuike Enyia and Juanta Griffin for village trustee in April’s election.

Many defunding advocates support abolishing the police. In her blog, Walker-Peddakotla wrote, “Progress isn’t continuing a relationship with a system that is responsible for your oppression. Progress is breaking the bonds, removing the funding from that system, and reimagining a world without that oppressive system.” Her blog also includes links to abolitionist readings. FTTOP holds a monthly “Abolitionist Reading Club,” its first listed article is titled, “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.” 

A key FTTOP organizer, Cynthia Brito-Milan, posted to Facebook last July that “Defund the Police has always been intended as a steppingstone to the ultimate goal of abolishing police completely.” Brito-Milan was a presenter at the FTTOP information session for village board candidates in January. She also serves as an adviser to the youth group Revolutionary Youth Oak Park Action League (ROYAL), the organizers of the unlawful protest at Village President Anan Abu-Taleb’s home last August.

In response to these efforts, an advisory referendum on defunding the police appears on the April ballot. It is important to vote “no” and send a strong message to the new village board of the community’s wishes on this critical safety issue. Make a plan now to vote and share this information with friends and neighbors. Early voting begins on March 22.

During the Aug. 25 meeting, Walker-Peddakotla said defunding is a step to abolition if that is where this board wants to go. If just two of the four open village board seats go to defunding advocates on Election Day, that reality may be just around the corner.

Monica Sheehan, Oak Park

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