June 3rd, 2020 5:03 PM
Updated: Jun. 5th, 2020 11:18 AM
Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb has issued an apology after coming under fire for comments he made during a June 1 virtual board meeting likening the profiling police receive with profiling experienced by African Americans.
"I am sorry for the pain that this misrepresentation has caused many of you—I did not and do not intend to minimize the pain and suffering that African-Americans have endured through history and are going through right now nor to suggest that police mistreatment, especially of black men, is not an urgent problem in our country that needs to be solved and solved quickly," Abu-Taleb said in his apology.
Within his apology statement sent to Wednesday Journal, the mayor stated that his comments regarding police profiling were taken out of context. To read Abu-Taleb's apology in full, please see the sidebar.
During the June 1 meeting, the mayor began his closing statement by denouncing racism and called on the village to work to heal, help and restore trust in the community, saying, "I think we should all look for a day where a person of color, when they get stopped by the police, it's not a fearful experience for them."
Shortly after, Abu-Taleb praised the Oak Park Police Department and described job difficulties associated with police work.
"We have a police department – the police, when they hear a gunshot, they run toward it, as you know," the mayor said. "With any of you, any of you right now, for whatever money in the world, would want to be a police officer? Raise your hand, please, if you would want to be a police officer for any money in the world right now. It's a hard job. It's a dangerous job."
Abu-Taleb then went on to say that police experience profiling by citizens similar to that of the profiling African Americans face when interacting with police – a comparison that drew criticism from members of the Oak Park community.
"You're being profiled against because you're a police officer. It's the same issue on the other side. A person of color is profiled against because they're of color and a police officer nowadays feels the same exact way," he said. "It's assumed because they're wearing the uniform, they are not going to treat people of color in a fair manner."
Oak Park residents have taken to social media to express their displeasure with the mayor's words which he delivered amid nationwide protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died at the knee of a white police officer May 31 in Minneapolis.
Village resident Steve Krasinsky posted a video of Abu-Taleb's statement on his Facebook page and encouraged people to share the post if they felt so inclined.
"The depth of our village president's mis-understanding and his utter lack of self-awareness and leadership at this exact moment is staggering," Krasinsky's post reads. "This is what we're up against in the fight for justice in Oak Park."
Paul Goyette, photographer and Oak Park resident, also took to Facebook to spread awareness of Abu-Taleb's comparison, including the same video clip with a hat tip to Krasinsky.
"Here is the mayor of Oak Park explaining how police are profiled 'the same exact way' as people of color," Goyette wrote.
Goyette also said in his post that the village board voted during that meeting to give Abu-Taleb the authority to declare a local state of emergency and the ability to impose a nightly curfew, which Abu-Taleb subsequently did. The declaration expires June 9.
"This was after five of six trustees voted him the authority to impose curfews whenever he deems necessary over the next week and a half," Goyette's post reads.
Anthony Clark, an OPRF teacher and social activist, shared Goyette's post on the Suburban Unity Alliance Facebook page, writing, "Oak Park, where police that systemically across this nation continue to kill innocent Black people, are somehow treated just like Black people....."
Clark's post received 43 comments in which people criticized Abu-Taleb's words, calling them "absolutely ignorant," "inexcusable," "profoundly disappointing," and "trash."
Some commenters said they had emailed the mayor and expressed the desire for the creation of a petition to remove Abu-Taleb from office.
Clark alluded to Abu-Taleb in a second post. In large white font against a black background, Clark's post reads, "Oak Park needs a new village president!"
Maya del Sol restaurant, which Abu-Taleb's family owns, sent an email Wednesday affirming its support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as its commitment to inclusion:
"We have always been, and will always be, a place where people of all walks, race, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, and all different views of the world, EXCEPT those of hatred and intolerance, are welcomed, embraced, and celebrated. It is a tragedy to see what is happening in this country, and across the world, and even more tragic that it has gone on for so long."
The email said Maya del Sol stands in solidarity with the black community and disavowed police brutality:
"We stand with the black community. We stand against police brutality. We stand against any element of racism that exists in this world. We stand committed to amplifying the voices of our black team members. We stand committed to dismantling systemic racism in this country and in our communities. Black pain matters. Black voices matter. Black Lives Matter."
This story has been updated to include an apology from the mayor.
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Regarding the comments that I made in our board meeting on Monday night, I want to first say this, and to be clear about it:
One of my comments was taken out of context and does not accurately reflect what I said, how I feel, or who I am. What has been made of this comment by removing it from the entire context is divisive and destructive. Certain people have tried to make me out as racist, which could not be farther from the truth. Still, I am sorry for the pain that this misrepresentation has caused many of you—I did not and do not intend to minimize the pain and suffering that African-Americans have endured through history and are going through right now nor to suggest that police mistreatment, especially of black men, is not an urgent problem in our country that needs to be solved and solved quickly. The full transcript of Monday's meeting clearly shows the intent of my comments, as do earlier comments in the same meeting.
That said, to clarify what I stated on Monday, which, taken in full context, I stand behind:
What happened in Minneapolis last week is tragic, appalling, and symptomatic of wider, systemic racism within police departments across this country. Issues of racist behavior, racial bias, and racially motivated misuse and excessive use of force must change, and must change immediately. We all have work to do, not only to permanently correct these problems within police departments, but also to permanently correct these issues within our society.
I will not cast a blanket label of racism on our Oak Park police officers due to the actions of police officers in other communities, including Minneapolis. I have experienced law abiding, ethical law enforcement personnel in our own village's police department and witnessed throughout this country those who serve and protect the communities they represent without an ounce of racial bias in their bones. I will judge our department and the actions of each officer on the basis of facts. Yet, the countless number of other police misconduct and racial bias throughout the history of this country is shameful and must stop, and Oak Park must work to ensure we prevent it here. I know so many officers here in Oak Park who, like me, are disgusted at what happened to George Floyd. I am confident they will join the effort to make change happen.
Racism, in all forms, is evil and has no place here in Oak Park. Every facet of life, from education, to employment, to the legal system and everything in between has left minorities, and particularly Black Americans, at a disadvantage that has effects that last generations. We all have a responsibility to address inequities wherever they are found and right them. We need healing in this country. We need awareness and understanding, empathy and love. It is time for this country to change.
Village of Oak Park
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