In his Feb. 10 column, “To defund or not to defund? That is not the question,” Journal editor Ken Trainor analyzed the upcoming referendum on “defunding the police.” While I share Mr. Trainor’s concern that clarity is needed around the term “defund the police,” I found his contempt for both the term and the activists who popularized it to be disrespectful, to say the least.
Mr. Trainor referred to “defund the police” as “the worst slogan in the history of slogans” and sarcastically described the black activists who popularized the term as “brainiacs.” If these were attempts at humor, the problem is that the jokes punch down at black activists who face police abuse that Mr. Trainor, who is white, does not. Even if we put Mr. Trainor’s race aside, his decision to mock a term born out of such painful experiences and to denigrate the people whose language reflects those experiences was gratuitous.
He could have disagreed respectfully and said, for example, “I respect that ‘defund the police’ may be a reflection of experiences with police abuse that the black activists who popularized the term have had, but I do not believe that the term will garner support for police reform in Oak Park.”
Mr. Trainor also incorrectly explains police brutality as a consequence of “pressure” faced by police. However, Jon Burge and his accomplices did not sexually assault, beat while yelling the n-word and otherwise torture over 100 mostly black men because of “pressure.” Derek Chauvin did not kneel on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes because of “pressure.” Moreover, if pressure was the problem, then police violence would be distributed evenly across the population, not disproportionately used against black, Latino and Native people. That’s not a “pressure” problem; that’s a racism problem.
This is not the first time the Journal has fumbled its coverage of race. In a previous column, the paper’s publisher Dan Haley dismissively and paternalistically castigated Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, the board’s only woman of color, for calling a white male nominee to the Police Oversight Committee “racist” and “misogynistic.”
The message that these incidents send is that, unless people of color only address racism in ways that white members of the Journal approve of, we will be mocked or castigated by the paper. This message will have a silencing effect on some people of color in the village and, as a result, allow some of the racism that we recognize to proceed unchallenged. Mr. Trainor, Mr. Haley and others can disagree with people of color on race, but doing so with such dismissiveness and hostility is unwarranted and unwise.
To avoid future missteps, the Journal needs to implement equity training. It also needs a clear, standardized, equity-based policy for covering race. People of color in Oak Park deserve more respectful coverage of our opinions and observations on race in this paper.
Alisa Robinson is a lifelong Oak Parker who runs the world’s only comprehensive record of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Editor’s note: Alisa, you’re right about “brainiacs.” An unnecessary personal putdown, a function of the frustration I feel about the term “defund,” which I discuss in my column this week. Thanks for pointing it out. And WJ did undergo equity training with our entire staff earlier this year.