Mayor, protestors need to talk

Opinion: Dan Haley

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

How about a reset?

Young protestors have no business on the front porch of Oak Park's mayor. Ripping up his backyard flower garden is unacceptable. And any adults with influence over these young people who were present ought to have intervened and ought now to be urging them toward an apology.

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb missed his chance to get ahead of the legitimate upset of these students by not meeting with them weeks ago. He needs to do better. 

Both the protestors and the mayor have claimed deniability on the lack of connection they've made. As I stood on the sidewalk in front of Abu-Taleb's home last Tuesday night, Makayla Pye, a 16-year-old junior at OPRF, was frustrated that the mayor had not agreed to meet with members of ROYAL, a local youth activist group, to hear their views. Her rightful perception is that members of the village board have been dismissive of listening to them. 

And Monday morning, early on the patio of Abu-Taleb's Maya del Sol restaurant, I listened as the mayor said no one from the group had called village hall, emailed him to request a meeting. 

But come on, everybody. We're in a moment of high tension. Sixteen-year-old protestors failed the test of protocol on how to make an appointment and a mayor, mad at a trustee, failed to reach out to hear a key constituency. 

Makes for drama but not headway.

Abu-Taleb said Monday morning he's ready to meet with representatives among the protestors. "I am happy to meet with them. I probably should have reached out," he rightly said. 

And I'm waiting to hear back from a representative of ROYAL to gauge their interest in joining a conversation.

Meanwhile, there is news to report on Oak Park's so far stumbling effort to find a path forward on improving and changing policing in the village. 

While last week's board meeting to consider a reform resolution from Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla has been overtaken by the protest at the mayor's home, and while that resolution was defeated 5-2, it was, in her assessment after the vote, the first time the full board had a productive discussion of reform.

I thought so, too.

That could be something to build on.

And in Abu-Taleb's closing statement, delivered haltingly as the noise of protestors surrounding his home came through the basement windows, I heard something new, direct and powerful [see text in Viewpoints, p. 23]. Cut through the mayor's diversionary rhetoric inevitably criticizing "defund the police" nonsense and his unnecessary diminishment of Walker-Peddakotla's resolution and there is this paragraph:

"Reforming our police department, holding the police officers accountable the same way as the general public, having a public database of police officers' conduct, working to convince the unions that in the long run, the discipline, the promotion, reward, reprimand and accountability of a police officer belongs to the local municipality, belongs to the chief and management."

Here's the common ground and the truth of remaking policing. The chokehold the Fraternal Order of Police, in all its iterations locally and nationally, has on police officer accountability is foundational to our policing problems. Until local political leaders are ready to say that out loud, to make strong demands before another contract is signed, then much of the possible progress on reform will be peripheral.

As we've pointed out only recently, negotiations on a new police contract start right now in Oak Park, Sept. 1. Taking on a union is never easy, certainly not quick. But it is the core of police reform and Abu-Taleb has gone out on the limb by saying so. There's room on that shaky limb for Walker-Peddakotla.

When I said to Anan on Monday that I felt he had a blind spot on this complex issue, he bristled and with evident emotion talked about his childhood in occupied Palestine.

"My father. Ninety-two years. Never a day free," he said. No freedom of movement. No freedom of religion. No ability to protect his family from harm. 

"You think I don't understand f***ing oppression? I do," he said. But, he said, "One of the things that has kept Palestinians from progress has been by violating the rights of others."

These young people on his lawn, on his porch, in the face of his family feel oppressed. Abu-Taleb feels his right to safety in his home was violated.

Sounds like a good starting point for a conversation. 

Email: Twitter: @OPEditor

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