D200 board denounces member's 'Islamophobia'

Remarks were 'unbecoming'

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

During a special board meeting held Dec. 22, members of the District 200 school board apologized to Oak Park resident Dima Ali and formally denounced comments made by D200 board member Matt Baron that many community members said caused harm to Ali and other Muslim and non-white Oak Parkers. 

The controversy dates to a comment written by Ali in November under a Wednesday Journal news article about Oak Park Trustee Dan Moroney, which was posted to Facebook. In her comment, Ali called Moroney a white supremacist.

Baron, who knows Moroney, contacted Wednesday Journal and urged the paper to remove the Facebook comment before submitting an opinion piece to the paper in which he compared Ali's comment to someone leaving duffle bags in public places — code for terrorism. Ali is Muslim, a fact that Baron subsequently said he did not know at the time he wrote the piece. 

Baron issued a written apology roughly a week later, calling his analogy "far too intense" and "needlessly over-the-top as I sought to stir people in this community to push back on unfair character attacks."

During brief comments made at a Dec. 3 Committee of the Whole meeting, Baron said his metaphor was "intended to provoke bystanders like those who click like or love in response to the white supremacist label," before doubling down on what he called his "key point — let's stop the racial identity politics." 

In her remarks made during the Dec. 22 special meeting, Ali said she was disappointed by the board's delayed response to Baron's comments and called for his resignation. 

"An Islamophobic board member should not be sitting right now like this," she said, adding that she felt the board failed its marginalized students and community members by not condemning Baron's remarks more swiftly. 

"We're not terrorists," said Ali, who is also an Oak Park and River Forest High School parent. "We are your neighbors. … We're your friends. In this community, we don't drop suspicious duffel bags, we drop off bags full of donations. We drop off food, soup to any sick friend and community member." 

After Ali's remarks, D200 board President Sara Dixon Spivy read a statement on behalf of the board majority that "formally denounced" Baron's opinion piece, adding that Baron also "failed to recognize the impact and harm" of his opinion piece in his subsequent board comments. 

The board said Baron's "racist and Islamophobic remarks directly conflict with this board's belief in racial equity and inclusion," adding that they have also "undermined ongoing efforts" made by the district to advance its mission of improving equity and inclusion, and creating a "culture of warmth" for all OPRF students and community members. 

The board also called Baron's actions "conduct unbecoming of a board member," but stopped short of calling for his resignation. 

Baron, a first term D200 board member elected to the board in 2017, will not seek re-election. He was present at the Dec. 22 special meeting, but remained silent while his board colleagues apologized to Ali for their sluggish response and expressed their frustration, anger and disappointment. The board's formal statement happened roughly a month after Baron's opinion piece was published.

"Our board has a commitment to the actions that would tear away and break down institutionalized racism, which all of these little insidious things feed into, which are completely and totally unacceptable," said member Gina Harris. 

"As a board member, as a member of this community, as a Black woman, as a mother of four children who have lived in this community and gone to this school, I share your pain, and I appreciate finally being given an opportunity as a board to express our outrage because it is here and should not be denied," said member Jackie Moore. 

Board members said the delayed reaction was, in part, due to legal restrictions on how government boards can meet, brought about by the Open Meetings Act, as well as complications related to the pandemic. All D200 board meetings since March have been held virtually. 

Board member Ralph Martire said the legal requirement delayed the board's response "and probably extended the harm" done to Ali and other community members by Baron's comments, but "we support your statements and we support you," Martire told Ali. 

Tamer Abouzeid, with the Council on American Islamic Relations - Chicago, was also present at the Dec. 22 special meeting. 

"There have been harms done and we will have to take actions," Abouzeid said, before extending an invitation for OPRF to utilize his organization's resources to make the high school more inclusive, especially for Muslim students. 

"This has been the lowest month as a board member that I've ever experienced," said Spivy. "We've had some bad times, but nothing compares to this." 

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Shawn Calvert from Oak Park  

Posted: January 9th, 2021 3:33 PM

Check out the video posted by Sarah Abboreno Corbin below, it really gets at what's going on here, and how pointless & destructive this kind of public name calling can be (saying people are white supremacists vs pointing how how things they do connect to a racist system, or come from white privilege). I think it's obvious that Baron would have been much more explicit in his metaphor if he was the 'Islamaphobe' he is being labeled as. But what seems obvious to me, might not be to you. Is this entire episode really based on his use of that metaphor? If so, it was way too fluid and subjective for this kind of reaction, and the calls of outrage and more 'actions.' Let's pretend we all agree he was trying to describe the uncontrollable, toxic damage done by name calling in public forums -- irony? I'm not defending anyone; people in elected office should not publicly call out community members, directly or indirectly -- but I'm honestly hoping there is more to this story that justifies the board reactions described above. Not to mention diverting time/resources away from the real equity issues in our schools, and getting through remote learning.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 9th, 2021 12:14 PM

I keep it simple. A person write on facebook that person is a White supremacist. The accuser is not willing to establish fact. Another person thinks Dan Moroney is a White supremist because he went on an entertainment show to explain what happened at a board meeting and establish an audience just like other politicians do. Baron writes an Opinion piece let go through the gate keepers. The end result, Moroney is a White supremist and so is Baron, without any proof. This is the progress people in Oak Park have been manipulated into believing is the best interest of the Village. I do not know Moroney or Baron, although I believe in justice, and not one accuser will present any evidence that either men are White supremist. That is not the World I believe in although I understand the tactics used to create a false belief. One plus one equals two, and that is a fact. Where is the fact that two people how now been pushed away. Just one person demonstrate the fact or this type of behavior will spin out of control until proof is not longer need. The means never justify the ends when it is built on false when build on lack of proof

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 9th, 2021 9:33 AM

In "The Twilight of Democracy,' Anne Applebaum writes, "The emotional appeal of a conspiracy theory is in its simplicity. It explains away complex phenomenon, accounts for chance and accidents, offers the believer the satisfying sense of having special, privileged access to the truth." In other words, if I believe it, it's true. That ignorant and irrational mindset is extremely dangerous whether it comes from the right or the left.

Corey Gimbel from River Forest  

Posted: January 9th, 2021 5:07 AM

Joeseph Goebbels wrote: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State." It seems to me that the repetitive labeling Dan Moroney and Matt Baron as Islamophobes and White Supremacists falls in category I referenced above. If said often enough the lie is believed by many people. This tactic has been employed to great effect by Trump and now it seems to have worked equally well in smearing 2 of Oak Park's elected officials. Kinda sucks IMHO. Just my 2.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 4:00 PM

Sarah Abboreno Corbin the link worked and it seemed what he was saying is if you think the person is a White supremacist then you just call the persona White supremacist to start a conversation. I notice Jason Cohen as mentioned about the right wing entertainment show that Dan Moroney went on, and now I understand that you are not suppose to go on shows that may be or could be considered racist. My difficult problem now is where do I shop without knowing if the company has a White supremist running the company. I have met people who were very much a racist and they remained in business for years. I never did any business with them once I knew, although I do not know how we can find every White supremist. I still would like proof if Dan Moroney or Matt Baron are really White supremist. I can not base it on an Opinion article that never mentioned one person's name, or someone who was most likely trying to improve his exposure to voters and not his attitude of being a White supremacist

Jason Cohen  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 3:32 PM

I do keep doing this. Maroney was the one on the show and the one called a racist. My bad.Replace Maroney for Harmon. Nothing else is impacted.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 3:06 PM

Jason, I don't understand why we have to go over this again and again. This is now the second recap of events you've given in the past two weeks for the same incident and both times you cited the wrong person. I will now offer you the same advice as before: tap out.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 2:37 PM

I don't understand why we have to go over this again and again. There's a reason to accuse Harmon of being a white supremacist. After an argument at a board meeting last year, where things got very contentious, Harmon decided to go on Chicago Morning Answer. If anyone is unfamiliar with this radio show, it's a right-wing show that regularly supports a very alt-right agenda, as well as anti muslin and all the rest that you would expect from a far-right show. It's a show that white supremacists would certainly find enjoyable. Harmon works for us. He decided to go on this show to "explain" what happened during that explosive board meeting. The people that listen to this show are certainly not from OP, for the most part. Who exactly was he explaining this to then? The results of this were death threats against the women involved. Does this mean Harmon is a white supremacist? No, it doesn't. Does it mean he made a voluntary choice to cozy up to white supremacists so he could be in the comfort of other white men who don't like those mean liberal ladies? Yes, it does. He made that choice, and with that choice comes the fallout, which is to have people think of you as they do the others that would go on that show. He's hardly the victim here.

Sarah Abboreno Corbin  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 2:18 PM

Bill. Have you ever heard of Jay Smooth? He is really one of my favorite racial equity leaders. He started as the host of a hip hop radio show out of New York. I don't know if the link will come through but maybe you can cut and paste. I think you will enjoy it. https://www.youtube.com/watch/b0Ti-gkJiXc

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 12:50 PM

Shawn Calvert Proof is no longer required when you call a person a White supremacist. I have asked people on the comment boards where the proof is without any response. No one can substantiate the claim. They just go along with it. This is the worst thing you can do to a person to make an accusation, required a person to apologize and then say that is not good enough. We need to remove that person and make his or her life miserable. It went so far that many listed their names in support of an unproven accusation and ran a 2 page spread in support of the accuser without ever asking for proof that Dan Moroney or Matt Baron are White supremist. I do not even know Dan Moroney or Matt Baron This is how far Oak Park has fallen out of balance between truth and accusations

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 12:28 PM

Shawn. Well said. I agree 100%.

Shawn Calvert  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 12:13 PM

I'm probably missing something here, but this is how this story reads to me: Dima Ali calls Dan Moroney a white supremacist (based on what?). Generous assumption: maybe she isn't aware that, until recently, this term wasn't just a vague rhetorical device, esp for people from the south. Then Baron "compared Ali's comment to someone leaving duffle bags in public places ?" code for terrorism". Maybe he just watched "Richard Jewel", or read Say Nothing, who knows, but I don't think Muslims own that metaphor in the public imagination. Maybe if I was Muslim I would read that reference differently. But from that to "islamaphobe" is a stretch. He chose a bad metaphor in an article very few people would have read, and he apologized publicly. Did she? "There have been harms done and we will have to take actions," What harm? She called someone the equivalent of a terrorist (maybe), he called her back the same (maybe). It looks like the only real harm -- actual, tangible harm -- being done here is how this has been escalated, and turned into a character hit on Baron. For what?

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 6th, 2021 9:24 PM

Just an observation, Ms. Ali; white supremacists often refer to those they look down on and seek to oppress as "little, insignificant people." Perhaps you'd care to adjust your own attitude?

Dima Ali from Oak Park   

Posted: January 6th, 2021 9:13 PM

I'm Muslim Iraqi- American immigrant and I'm VERY proud. I hold my head high and walk through this life knowing my impact & truth is powerful. So powerful that some little, insignificant people get triggered & try to silence me. I scare them. I say bring it on. Play harder. I am who I am. This land is MY land and I'm here to stay. Deal with it. Islamophobes and haters and racist can stay mad. I already moved on and off to help and support my community and be a good citizen. (Watch for some individuals throw fits here in this very comments section. Case in point)

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 6th, 2021 3:41 PM

There is something missing to this story and that is if Matt Baron really is a White supremacist. The Opinion piece he wrote was very strange and after the fact of being called a White racist although he never mentioned a name. I really think people can help do better by not calling out anyone as a racist unless they have proof. It just causes to much damage and is not going to be a productive way to work through race relation problems

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