January 23rd, 2020 2:05 PM
Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds during a regular village board meeting on Jan. 21. | Shanel Romain
The Oak Park Police Department has opened an investigation into its handling of an alleged assault against a developmentally disabled African American man by his white neighbor – a case that prompted an apology from Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and intense discussions among residents about a range of pressing local issues, such as systemic racism and the treatment of Oak Park's most vulnerable and marginalized residents.
The incident happened Dec. 20 in the 100 block of North Humphrey Avenue. The alleged victim, Isaiah "Peanut" Sims, 23, said he walked outside of his apartment complex and knocked on the door of a car he thought was the Uber waiting to drop him off at his job at Rush Oak Park Hospital.
"I saw the car pull up and thought it was an Uber," Sims said in a recent interview. "I knocked on the door three times and that's when [the man] came out and attacked me. He punched me in the eye six times."
Sims is the older brother of Elijah Sims, the Oak Park and River Forest High School student who was fatally shot in 2016 while riding his bike home from Chicago's Austin neighborhood, where he had been visiting friends.
Sims' mother Sharita Galloway said that she witnessed part of the reported attack before calling police. When the responding officers came, however, she said that they first approached the alleged attacker, a 39-year-old man, who lives down the street from her family, even as her son was lying on the ground. Galloway and Isaiah said that neither of them knew the man before the alleged attack happened, although Galloway said she sometimes would see him walking his dog.
"I was in my house lying on my bed and I heard a commotion outside," Galloway said in a recent interview. "I got up to look and saw a man getting off someone and, when he moved, it was my son laying in the grass. I was face-timing my sister. I already had one son get killed, so I was stuck, but she told me to hang up and call the police.
"I feel like we weren't treated fairly, because when I called the police and when they came down the street, the white guy, the attacker, raised his hand and the police addressed him first before addressing us," Galloway said.
"Once a sergeant came out and assessed the situation, they arrested the guy [but it seemed as if] they didn't want to arrest the guy," she said. "Clearly my son was beat up. He was spitting blood; his teeth were hurting. You can clearly tell my son was trying to get away from [the suspect]." Photos of Isaiah after the incident show his face visibly bruised.
Isaiah said that a postal worker in the area witnessed the alleged attack and had information demonstrating a pattern of similar behavior on the part of the man, and a neighbor was willing to speak about how Isaiah had also mistaken her car for an Uber in the past ("but she didn't beat me up"). Responding officers, however, were not interested in either person's story, Isaiah said.
"The lady told the police, 'If this helps, I [Sims] tried to get in her car before, but she didn't beat me up or anything. The mail man witnessed the incident and he tried to tell the police what happened, and the police told him that [his story] was irrelevant," Sims said. "They didn't want to hear his side at all."
The man was eventually charged with battery arrest. He was released later that day and is awaiting a court hearing. When reached for comment last month, the man declined to speak about the incident and left a threatening voicemail message for a Wednesday Journal reporter, who subsequently filed a formal police complaint.
In the days following the attack, OPRF teacher and activist Anthony Clark shared a photo and a summary of the incident on Facebook. Many members of Suburban Unity Alliance, the Facebook group and nonprofit Clark founded, rallied in support of Sims.
Clark is close to both Sims and Galloway, both of whom said the suspect continued to harass them and their family members after getting out of jail. The family has since filed a restraining order against the man and Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds said that he's "allocated additional resources" to the area where the alleged attack occurred.
"As a community member, I must say I have been disappointed in the overall response of the entire community," Clark said.
"Peanut is the sweetest person you'll ever meet," Clark said at the Jan. 21 village board meeting. "There's literally not an angry bone in his body … I hope you understand how dangerous it is for black men in this country, but that danger is magnified often when you're a black man born with a disability."
At Tuesday's meeting, Chief Reynolds said that he has spoken to Sims and Galloway, and "was very disturbed about what happened to him, not only because he was the victim of a crime, but I was not enthused about how we handled the situation, so I've opened up an internal investigation."
Some board members who spoke about the incident during the meeting expressed remorse and called for the village to understand public safety from the vantage point of its most vulnerable residents, particularly African Americans and individuals experiencing disabilities.
"I'm sorry," Mayor Abu-Taleb told Galloway, who was standing at the public comment dais. "I'm sorry about the loss of your son a few years back and I'm sorry about what Peanut went through in this situation … We want a community where everyone feels that they fit in, that they belong."
"Community safety and public safety only includes certain residents in Oak Park," said Oak Park resident Suzanne Fairfax during public comment. "It's not OK. We need to be taking into account the community safety of every single resident here and acknowledging we have a problem with racism … racism is systemic, and it has many, many tendrils."
Sims, who said that he's still living with the trauma related to the alleged attack, said that he hopes his story opens up a much larger dialogue in the village. He added that he's experienced an outpouring of support from community members, one of whom even approached him in the grocery store and offered a hug.
"I don't bother nobody; I'm a nice guy," Isaiah said. "I treat people with respect. I'm glad to tell my story. I don't talk about it all of the time, but when people bring this situation up, it shows that they care. I hope this reaches everyone dealing with a disability to show that we are human."
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