Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb has apologized to a man named by a 4-3 vote to the Citizen Police Oversight Committee (CPOC) after Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla called Jack Powers "a racist" and "misogynist" during a discussion of his appointment at the Feb. 3 meeting of the village board.
Abu-Taleb apologized to Powers at the meeting, after Walker-Peddakotla would not, and subsequently also wrote a public letter of apology (see sidebar).
"Jack, I am sorry. I am embarrassed and ashamed that you were attacked by a village board member," the apology letter states. "Arti's views and comments do not represent the views of a majority of this village board."
In an email to the Wednesday Journal, Walker-Peddakotla reiterated her feelings about the appointment, writing, "Proper civilian oversight of police protects the civil rights of those residents who come into contact with the police and ensures greater accountability to the community. With this CPOC appointment, our village leadership continues to demonstrate resistance to progress and transparency as part of the larger narrative around community safety."
She also stated that in her time as a trustee, she has heard of many painful and traumatic experiences with police had by black and brown people living in Oak Park.
"I am dismayed that this qualitative data continues to be disregarded in our ongoing pursuit of community safety," she wrote. "I'm hopeful that Oak Park can join other progressive communities in acknowledging racial bias in our policing and working to pursue true racial equity. We are, sadly, behind the curve on this important issue."
CPOC comprises a group of seven members who volunteer their time to evaluate complaints regarding the police department and interpersonal, as well as community relations.
Powers' application stated he "expressed concern for crime in Oak Park, he prioritizes public safety, and has a desire to assist the Oak Park Police Department." It also stated that Powers thought the police department vital to Oak Park.
At the Feb. 3 meeting, Walker-Peddakotla stated that Tim Thomas, with whom she campaigned for village trustee, had wanted to join CPOC, but was appointed to a different commission instead. She supported Thomas, who is black, for the CPOC position. Powers is white.
"There is only one person of color on the [Citizen Police Oversight] Commission right now, Kevin Barnhart, and in a town where 40 percent of the people pulled over by police are people of color, predominantly black and Latinx people," she said. "The fact that we're not appointing a black man, Tim Thomas, to this commission is ridiculous."
Walker-Peddakotla referenced what she called a "racist, misogynistic" email Powers sent to the village board Sept. 25, 2019, saying, "Jack Powers, in his email said to me, quote, 'Public safety is a fundamental function of the board. If you do not understand this, you do not belong on the board.' Telling me, the only woman of color, that I don't belong on this board."
The email was sent following comments Walker-Peddakotla made at a meeting last September regarding her view that Oak Park police emphasized racial profiling over public safety. She posted the email with Powers' last name blacked out on Facebook on Sept. 27.
Walker-Peddakotla continued, "He goes on to say, quote, 'We have our share of homegrown crime and are adjacent to one of the most crime-ridden and violent neighborhoods in the Midwest.' That is racist."
She called on the board to "do what's right by black folks" and to appoint people who cared that police predominantly stop black people.
"But we've decided to appoint a racist, misogynist to the Police Oversight Commission," Walker-Peddakotla said.
Trustee Dan Moroney offered his support for Powers, as well as his disapproval for Walker-Peddakotla's language.
"I believe he's qualified. I do not believe this man to be a racist. I do not believe this man to be a misogynist," said Moroney. "I think throwing those terms around cheapens those terms a little bit."
Moroney said Powers has the ability to be both impartial and objective while serving on CPOC.
"So does Tim Thomas," Walker-Peddakotla interjected.
Moroney replied, "This isn't about Tim Thomas."
"He was in line to get appointed. Why didn't you say any of that about him?" she asked.
Moroney replied, "This is the first I've heard of it."
"That's absolute crap and you know it," Walker-Peddakotla said. "That is absolute crap."
The mayor attempted to defuse the situation but was shouted down in the process.
"Your willingness to slander somebody is frankly despicable," Moroney told Walker-Peddakotla.
Trustees Deno Andrews and Jim Taglia, as well as Mayor Abu-Taleb, joined Moroney in voting to appoint Powers. Trustees Susan Buchanan and Simone Boutet joined Walker-Peddakotla in voting against the appointment.
Powers, who was not present at the Feb. 3 meeting but watched online, said he did not believe Walker-Peddakotla was qualified to assess his character, nor did he agree with her description of him.
"My main thought is, I've never met that trustee," Power said. "I've never spoken to her, so she's in no position to know anything about my nature, my temperament or my disposition."
In regard to his Sept. 25, 2019 email, Powers said he sent it after reading the comments Walker-Peddakotla made about public safety and racial profiling in the Wednesday Journal.
"All I did was very factually state the obvious," he said. "I didn't refer to any person or group, I didn't impugn anybody and that was that."
He didn't believe his email was racist or misogynistic.
"I was being neither of those two things and that's not how I am in life either," he said.
Powers said he wasn't upset that Walker-Peddakotla attributed the email to him at the Feb. 3 meeting, but he took issue with it being posted on social media.
"Putting that email on Facebook was questionable at best," Powers said. "She never reached out to me and replied to that email. Not by phone, not by email."
Should Walker-Peddakotla reach out to him now, Powers said he would probably be open to speaking with her.
In the aftermath of the meeting, Abu-Taleb said it was inappropriate for elected officials to verbally attack citizens at the board table.
"We get elected to serve and not to attack the people that we serve," he told Wednesday Journal. "I don't think the board table should be used to do that. The majority of the board feel the same way."
Abu-Taleb stated he took no issue with trustees opposing the people he appoints to commissions, but the method in which Walker-Peddakotla expressed her opposition to Powers bothered him.
"It's in the manner that she used the board table to label a citizen as racist and misogynistic and to continue those labels online," he said. "This is not the Oak Park I know. This is not the Oak Park we should have."
Prior to appointing Powers, Abu-Taleb met with him to discuss the committee but did not speak with him directly about policing. Abu-Taleb said he believes Powers to be very qualified for CPOC.
"Here's a guy that wants to serve the community, volunteer his time," he said.
Beyond that, Abu-Taleb didn't know what else motivated Powers to go after a spot on the committee.
"I don't know what his motivations are any more than I know what anyone else's motivations are," Abu-Taleb said. "But I do know that if he has grandchildren and they hear that about him, they start wondering, 'Is my grandpa a racist?' We're a small community. I don't think we need to be doing that to each other."
Abu-Taleb said Walker-Peddakotla didn't contact him to discuss the appointment when she saw Powers' name on the meeting agenda.
"She has never picked up the phone to call me and say to me, 'Hey Anan, I have a problem with this guy.' Not once," he said.
Abu-Taleb felt like his own motivations were also under fire, as he made the appointment, when Walker-Peddakotla spoke against Powers at the meeting.
"She was basically questioning my motivation on why I'm appointing a racist, in her mind, to a commission for the village," he said. "You're questioning my motivation. Don't ever do that. You can question my judgment, absolutely."
Abu-Taleb would have preferred Walker-Peddakotla reach out to him to discuss her concerns with Powers instead of airing her grievances at the board table.
"I'm your colleague. Call me. You can say, 'I don't like this guy because his views don't align with mine and I feel we could have someone of color,'" he said. "But when you start labeling people, calling them racists – how does she know? How does she know what's in people's hearts?"
Answer Book 2019
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.
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