The other thing about prisons and police is how they make people — the vast majority of people — feel secure. I don’t mean safe, I mean secure. Secure means that the scary, awful, monster people are kept at bay by those institutions. That is the story that gets told and reinforced by media, by our parents, by our culture, that is our story. That’s our narrative.

Mariame Kaba, Activist, organizer

Many Oak Parkers balked when they saw the nonbinding referendum on our ballots: “Should Oak Park defund its police department?” It did not pass, of course. I doubt that the outcome would have been substantively different had the question been: “Should the village of Oak Park re-analyze its crime prevention strategy and budget priorities, aiming to decrease investment in policing and raise investment in education, social services, and other such programming?” 

Why? Because Oak Parkers like to be comfortable — many of them probably think that issues in policing are only issues in Chicago, over there but not here. We acknowledge systemic issues but refuse to confront them when they are in our own community. We should do better.

The data tells us about how systemic issues related to policing indeed exist in Oak Park. For starters, Wednesday Journal published an opinion piece over the summer exposing data that 97% of minors stopped by Oak Park police are black. Police in schools are well-documented as disproportionately creating criminal records for children of color for incidents whereas their white classmates would just receive a suspension, a call home, or a stern talking-to.

Systems we are born into feel natural and correct. They create the world around us, and we want that world to make sense. It’s human instinct. We need to look at ourselves, our systems, and institutions and think about if these systems are right or if they just feel right. I will not pretend I have all of the answers, but I know there is a problem. I think redistributing some of the money into more comprehensive social services, mental health care, and education could be an excellent place to start. Traffic policing — if you have a taillight out, for example — should that be an invitation for an armed police officer to pull you over? Could an unarmed village services worker do that instead?

If we want to put our money where our mouths are, we need to collectively consider our values and priorities and then put those in line with our actions.

Daniel Jenks, Oak Park

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