First District Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson | Provided

An attempt by a county lawmaker to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day has stalled in committee.

First District Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson, whose district spans Oak Park and Forest Park, introduced the proposed resolution during a Cook County Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee hearing held virtually on Oct. 5.

In a voice vote, committee members decided to defer the proposed resolution, which had overwhelming support from people who offered public comments during the hearing.

Several commissioners who spoke out against the proposal said they appreciate the dialogue the proposal has sparked, but thought it was too divisive.

“This debate has turned sour with many people unwilling to listen and discuss the essence of this issue,” said Commissioner Frank Aguilar (16th). “You don’t have to take something from another group [in order to] make yourself stronger.”

West Side Commissioner Dennis Deer, whose 2nd District includes parts of Austin, West Garfield Park and North Lawndale, said he didn’t want to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” adding that he wanted more dialogue to happen.

“As I talked with individuals who were on both sides of the equation, I asked several times, ‘Have you all come to the table to talk? Have you all come to the table to see what you agree on and disagree on?’ I kept hearing, ‘No.’”

A dancer performs at a celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day at Pottawattamie Park in Chicago on Oct. 11, where First District Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson spoke about his proposal to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Johnson’s district spans Oak Park and Forest Park. | Paul Goyette

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (17th) said he “didn’t appreciate the vitriolic rhetoric” that was included in the multiple drafts of the resolution.

“I would like to see the same amount of vigor, the same amount of communication, the same amount of discussion and debate over the violence that’s taking place in Cook County at this moment, violence that has many causes, but also is due to the experimental social justice policies” implemented by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

“I think what Commissioner Sean Morrison has indicated is exactly why we’re having these conversations. The acts of violence against people of color is a very common trend over the course of history,” Johnson said.

He added that the systemic violence of genocide, colonization and white supremacy addressed in the resolution and the violence on the West Side shouldn’t be considered separate issues.

In a statement, Johnson said that if Cook County had passed the resolution, it would have followed “14 states, nine counties, over 165 cities and towns, and a few dozen universities and school districts — including Chicago Public Schools, Evanston, Oak Park, Skokie, and Niles Township — that already have made the change.”

Johnson said during an interview on Oct. 7 that the delay “is really an extension of our trauma,” adding that celebrating Columbus is inconsistent with other progress that’s been made at the county level.

“In 2020, the Cook County Board unanimously passed an ordinance recognizing Juneteenth as the day we celebrate Black America’s emancipation from slavery,” Johnson stated.

“But while we celebrate slavery’s end in June, five months later, we honor the man who made the original sin of slavery possible,” he said. “It makes no sense, and it is a slap in the face to our county’s Black, Latinx and Native people.”

Johnson said there were nearly 200 written testimonies submitted in favor of the resolution “and maybe four or five submitted in opposition.” That’s not including the “thousands of emails” sent to county commissioners from “almost 180 organizations,” Johnson said, adding that the groups represented “not just people of color, but Italian Americans.”

“We at the Italian Heritage Society of Chicago are disappointed that the commissioners once again let a small group of racially intolerant Italian Americans insist on a position that numbers us among the backward counties of the nation, instead of one of the progressive ones where we belong,” said Gabriel Piemonte, the founder and president of the Italian American Heritage Society, in a statement.

“Columbus sailed for Spain and did not even know what Italy was in his lifetime,” stated Charlie Klepac, an Italian American who lives in Cook County. “Italy didn’t exist as a nation until the late 1870s. He had nothing to do with Italian American immigrants.”

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com

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