Since its inception roughly four years ago, the student-led activist group Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League has advocated for racial equity in the community. The vocal group of teenage organizers have staged school walkouts, submitted public comments at village board meetings and protested outside municipal buildings. Through these demonstrations, ROYAL has gained the attention of elected officials, even receiving an invitation to participate in a private community stakeholder meeting about the future of Oak Park policing – which the group declined.
Calling the invitation “an empty gesture” from the village of Oak Park, ROYAL sent a statement to Wednesday Journal stating the group would not participate in such a meeting due to the village board’s history of ignoring their requests.
“For the last 4 years we have been vocal about our experiences and demands as they relate to the punitive systems in Oak Park, especially policing,” the statement reads.
ROYAL’s statement lists the group’s demands as defunding police and reallocating those resources to fund the futures of Black youth through services and resources, ending police responses to mental health crises and wellness checks, declaring a day of recognition for people of color who were victims of police violence, and ending the expansion of police surveillance technology.
Rasheda Jackson, assistant village attorney, confirmed that ROYAL was invited to and declined to participate in a “special targeted group meeting” held March 15 with BerryDunn, the firm contracted by the village of Oak Park to carry out an assessment of its police department. The cost of services provided in BerryDunn’s proposal amounted to $159,250.
The village board’s engagement of BerryDunn also contributed to ROYAL’s decision not to participate in the March 15 meeting as the firm employs many former police officials.
“[ROYAL] can’t believe that BerryDunn would even have the audacity to ask them to participate in something like this,” said Cynthia Brito Millan, ROYAL moderator and supervisor. “The youth feel so upset, disappointed, disrespected.”
Michele Weinzetl, who is leading BerryDunn’s Oak Park assessment, has 30 years of experience working in law enforcement and spent 17 of those years as a police chief. Weinzetl developed the “Community Co-Production Policing” collaborative model that “transforms police agencies into a community-owned commodity,” according to the BerryDunn website.
To the members of Royal, it felt “like a slap in the face” and “really harmful” that the village board, with the exception of Trustees Arti Walker-Peddakotla and Chibuike Enyia, voted to utilize the services of former police officers to evaluate current police officers, according to Brito Millan. She argued that the invitation wasn’t an act of true community engagement.
“It is performative,” said Brito Millan. “If you hire cops to talk about cops, they’re going to just end up with solutions that are within that system of policing.”