Listening, then changing policing

Opinion: Editorials

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It would be easy to get lost in this stunningly grim week. So we'll shine a light on the letter jointly issued Sunday by Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, Village Manager Cara Pavlicek, Police Chief LaDon Reynolds and Deputy Chief Joe Moran.

The letter was in the context of the village government's response to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. It was in the context of generally supporting the work done by Oak Park's police force. And it was in the context of trying to head off violent protests, and violence generally, in Oak Park in the wake of this latest atrocity against black and brown Americans by police excess.

"We denounce and condemn actions of this officer who has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter," is the opening.

It goes on to laud Oak Park's police saying the department rejects racism and discrimination in all its forms and that the department values community policing and works "for ever increasing the diversity of our department." All largely true.

And not good enough, as this page has long maintained.

So it was heartening that this letter went on to say village government was open to a public discussion on policing and equity.

This is new. And overdue.

"We must also have procedural justice, transparency, accountability and honest recognition of not only the present but the past as well," said the letter. "Additional tools are needed. And to that end, we pledge to support a public discussion about police training, policies and technology such as body cameras to determine the best ways to improve how we serve the Oak Park community."

While the past week has been a year long, it was only last Tuesday that the Journal reported on a new progressive political PAC called Activate Oak Park. We have concerns about PACS and their funding. We have enough middle-of-the-road in us to question if Oak Park benefits from full-tilt progressive pursuits. There is an entire election season to sort all that out. But it is notable that one of its four "pillars" has to do with rethinking public safety and policing in Oak Park.

We agree with that fully.

It is possible to praise Oak Park's police department while also offering genuine criticism. And it is necessary to think about public safety in ways well beyond traditional policing. 

The elemental lesson of this past week is that we need to listen. White people especially need to listen. Systemic racism pervades policing. And education. And the union movement. And news gathering. It is baked deep into the American heart. This is not about "a few bad apples" as Trump's national security advisor said Sunday on the news shows. Our nation is rigged for white people. It comes at a staggering cost for people of color.

First we must block the inevitable and somewhat understandable noise and anguish over the violence and the looting. We're going to need some strong reporting over weeks and months to figure out locally and nationally the sources of this hostile disruption.

It cannot, though, be an excuse to divert from the necessary discussion of racism in policing. And Oak Park may be ready, at long last, to lead on remaking policing in foundational ways. 

Last week, in this moment of crisis, Oak Park's leaders made a commitment to that path. We will hold them to it.

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