You look to elected officials to elevate the conversation, or at least to calm it. 

In an epic fail back in January, Oak Park’s village board voted 4-3 to place Trustee Dan Moroney’s provocative and purposeless non-binding referendum on policing on the April ballot. 

“Shall the village of Oak Park defund its police department?”

The sole purpose of this ballot question is to create angst and anger, to further sow division in a town ready to be divided. And the cynical result is playing out exactly how Moroney, and whoever is whispering in his ear, intended. There is a, so far, anonymous campaign — website, video, mailer — stirring upset on social media, in the letters pages of the Journal, and between two slates of candidates which had been waging a decent campaign on issues of import until recently.

Now we are in the final week of the campaign and positions are hardening, rhetoric is growing more intense, and the outcome of the election is being shaped by anonymous forces so cowardly they hide. For now they hide.

Who benefits and who loses in this moment? Damned if I know. Voters will decide on April 6.

Regardless of the outcome, the next village president will have a harder job than necessary in finally leading Oak Park into a genuine discussion of policing in the village. That conversation is already 10 months — or 10 years — overdue. Certainly it dates to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the repulsion most people felt in seeing that endless video of four police officers ending his life. 

The protests that swept Oak Park and the nation were the opportunity for a pragmatic and aspirational discussion of how Oak Park’s pretty good police force could become an exceptional and innovative force. 

We’ve squandered that opportunity.

And, as I’ve said 10 times, the choice to stay with the Defund the Police rallying cry is completely misguided by those on the left, including those on the left in this town. It is simplistic. It is incendiary. It is inaccurate. And it sets up exactly the sort of nonsense Oak Park is now experiencing in this election. 

But here we are. Smart town dancing to a tune spun up by anonymous forces using tactics we’ve watched for years out of Trump’s demented view of democracy. Tactics the wide majority of Americans fully repudiated in November.

The really smart people in town have come to the right conclusion. This ballot question is a trap. The question has no purpose but more noise and division. 

The four men on the village board who voted for this self-inflicted pain bear direct responsibility for this mess. And I can’t ignore that this was a straight-up four men vs. three women on the board decision. Not irrelevant. 

Interviewed the two candidates for Oak Park village president last week. We’ve now posted those one-on-one conversations at OakPark.com. Either one of them will do a better job of leading the reshaped village board to crafting a wide and thoughtful debate on how we reimagine policing in Oak Park. 

These are the big conversations Oak Park was theoretically built for. Not that you could tell this spring as we flop toward an election too much centered on fears and division.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...