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Race-baiting makes her point hard to hear

Opinion: Columns

March 12th, 2019 1:28 PM

By Peter Preston

One View

In her puzzling and hypocritical piece titled, "White women in Oak Park are not in danger" [Viewpoints, Feb. 27], ShaRhonda Knott Dawson begins by appealing to "those who actually care about the facts and statistics," but she immediately abandons facts or statistics to attack "white women in Oak Park." The thrust of her argument is that "white women in Oak Park" are constantly calling police because they fear black men. This is stereotyping, and it's exactly what she accuses the "white women in Oak Park" of doing.

Ms. Dawson is surprised that the just-released 2018 statistics from the Oak Park Police Department show 1,650 investigated crimes, and 66,286 calls to the police. She thinks that is a lot of calls, and from that she springs to the conclusion that "white women in Oak Park" think they are "in danger from black men/black children." Indeed, she says, it is the "white women in Oak Park [who] are dangerous."

First, should we even be surprised at the ratio of crimes investigated to the total number of calls for service? I don't know if that's a lot of calls or not, but neither does Ms. Dawson. The police department's report shows the number of calls for service has been basically flat since 2016. The police don't say that they think it is a lot of calls. 

Second, and more importantly, how does Ms. Dawson get from A to B? She directly and without evidence equates calls for service to "a white woman feeling scared." According to the Census Bureau (as of July 1, 2017), about half of Oak Park's residents are men and about one-third are non-white. I don't see any statistics from the police department on the demographics of their callers, but it is not a stretch to think that the department gets calls from men, and maybe some calls from non-white women, too, or that some calls, regardless of their source, were about things other than fear of a black man (noise complaints, abandoned cars, loose dogs, etc.). She offers no reason for equating however many calls the police receive to the white women of Oak Park living in terror of black men.

Injustice surely exists in Oak Park, as it does everywhere. To address the problem, we need to do a better job of listening to each other; especially to those with different world views than our own. Maybe Ms. Dawson's point was to ask the "white women in Oak Park" to think about whether they might be baselessly afraid of black men, and, if true, to consider the consequences of that to the subjects of their fear. That might have been a useful discussion. But instead, Ms. Dawson's race-baiting abandonment of reason and facts in this piece is counter-productive and makes it hard to hear her.

Peter Preston is proud to live in Oak Park with his wife and daughter.