This piece also appeared in a slightly different form in the Oak Park newspaper Wednesday Journal on Wednesday, October 7, 2020.
In August, a resolution came before the Oak Park Village Board that would have reduced funding for the police department. The “Freedom to Thrive” resolution did not specify how that reduction would take place, but simply set the goal of “reducing the amount spent on policing in the Village of Oak Park by defunding the Oak Park Police department such that we reduce the number of budgeted sworn officers during the FY2021 budget cycle, and commit to further reductions in future budget cycles.” During the Village Board meeting, the resolution was ultimately and unfortunately defeated with a vote of 5 against to 2 in favor.
During this meeting, the Oak Park chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police provided a statement against the resolution, which said in part:
- “We go above and beyond to fairly and equally serve and protect all citizens of this great community, and this resolution treats us as though our knees were used in that unspeakable crime committed against George Floyd. The resolution punishes your fellow public servants for a crime committed in another state.”
- “We all saw what happened in Chicago when organized criminals decided to loot businesses at will. We share a border with Chicago. Defunding the Oak Park Police Department will have the same effect as hanging an ‘open for crime’ sign at our village limits.”
- “This resolution specifically targets a group of citizens because of the color of uniform they wear. It ignores everything they have done to serve you and your constituents and assumes they are bad people simply because they wear a badge.”
This statement contains numerous biased and misdirecting ideas. First, the notion that reducing funding for their department is a punishment to police speaks to the sense of entitlement that the FOP has about the role of police officers in this community and in our society. Police officers do not have the right to a certain amount of funding, and reducing that is not a punishment for them.
Next, the idea that reducing the number of Oak Park police officers would suddenly trigger crime to pour in from Chicago is not only an erroneous idea, it is a racist idea, created from the fiction that residents of Austin are waiting to rush into our community to take what we have, rather than the truth that they are our fellow citizens trying to do the best they can by their families. In addition, as of 2018, Oak Park had 118 police officer positions, about 23 officers per 10,000 residents. This is much higher than the 16 officers per 10,000 residents in an average city with 50,000 to 100,000 residents, and provides more evidence that the number of officers could be reduced without increasing crime rates.
And finally, to say that police officers are targeted because of “the color of uniform they wear” — this is a clear and direct reference to the real targeting of Black people because of the color of their skin. And this false comparison — real prejudice against Black people who were born into their heritage with fictitious prejudice against police officers who chose and choose to put on a certain uniform — is horrendous. This is the same thing as using the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” in response to Black Lives Matter, the same as claiming that “reverse racism” against white people is the problem instead of racism against Black people, Latinx people, and other people of color.
Some of us like to believe that this type of prejudice does not exist in Oak Park, but here we have more evidence that it is alive and well. And it indicates the clear opposition that we face in our work for racial justice, in Oak Park and in other liberal communities. The “Freedom to Thrive” resolution was defeated, but the drive to reduce police funding in Oak Park is not dead. To push it forward, we need to find ways to make clear the real harm that police inflict on Black people here in Oak Park and elsewhere, and continue to build the case that many of the roles we have assigned police can be best accomplished by other people — social workers, mental health counselors, and others.
We all need to decide whose voices we will center in this struggle. Who describes the kind of community we want to see? Will we center the voice of the Fraternal Order of Police, which speaks for police officers and their interests? Are there any police officers out there who are willing to contradict the voice of this organization, and could they raise their voices to say so?
I believe it is best for us to center the voices of the young people who directly experience policing, such as the young people of the organization ROYAL. We would do well to understand their needs and to back them up as they advocate for improvements to our community — reduced funding of police and redirection of those funds to social services for our youth. This is the best way to push back against the reasoning of this misguided police statement — and to make clear our priorities as a community that values the voices of our young people.
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