OPRF students stage sit-in at Oak Park Village Hall

Demonstrators' demands included taking police out of high school

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

A group of roughly 40 protestors, most of them Oak Park and River Forest High School students, staged a peaceful sit-in at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., on the afternoon of Feb. 26 after marching out of the high school that morning.

The march was designed to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, as well as other black and brown individuals killed unjustly. The man accused of killing Martin, George Zimmerman, controversially was acquitted of murder.

Wednesday's march was the second annual Martin commemoration. Antoine Ford, the OPRF student who organized both marches, said that he and his peers had four specific demands that they presented to village officials.

They want the village of Oak Park to reallocate resources currently earmarked for police to other purposes, adopt a racial equity policy, remove Oak Park Police officers from OPRF and declare a day of recognition for Trayvon Martin and other minorities like him who have been killed unjustly.

When asked to specify which resources he and his peers want reallocating, Ford said that the department should reconsider spending money to renovate and expand its current police station underneath village hall.

"They need to put that money toward things like housing for single mothers," Ford said.

Addressing the group's demand for the removal of police at OPRF, who serve in the form of school resource officers (SROs), Ford said that many students "feel intimidated and criminalized" by the police presence.

District 200 and the village of Oak Park maintain the SRO program jointly through an intergovernmental agreement, with D200 paying the village roughly $155,000 to operate the program in the 2019-20 school year.

Community members, along with officials from D200 and the village, have expressed concerns about the presence of the officers, who have been inside of the high school since 1999, after the Columbine High School shooting, said Cara Pavlicek, Oak Park's village manager. Both boards took steps earlier this month indicating that more comprehensive action on the SRO program could be taken in the future.   

The group of protestors sat inside of the main floor of village hall for most of the afternoon, demanding to talk to Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who was not present in the building. The students wanted the mayor to sign a form that included their list of demands.

Pavlicek said she explained to the protestors that the mayor, who holds the position on a part-time basis, does not have an office at the village hall and would not have been able to make it to the building in a timely fashion.

"My point of view is everyone has the right to protest and everyone has the right to express their views, including our students," said Mayor Abu-Taleb during a phone interview on Feb. 27. "I am sorry I was not there to talk to them. I wish I was. I am happy to sit down with them, to talk to them at their convenience and listen to their concerns and hear them out." 

By 4:40 p.m., the students had left village hall to discuss further action. More as this story develops. 

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Reader Comments

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Tommy McCoy  

Posted: February 29th, 2020 4:45 PM

Jason Cohen I am not sure if this comment will be released although since the story does not say any specific time then it could be assumed morning walk out and afternoon sit it. These are students who have questions about topics and should be addressed although there really should be some form of outlet that can do that, instead of having a march out each time you want to call out an injustice or disapprove the way things are being handled. Maybe the leader of the group can show up in the evening at a board meeting. I understand that teachers do not want to get involved although if I recall Anthony Clark did get involved with some thing. As for parents, I think they would rather have their students in school. Will this type of call to action become more common will be shown over a period of time. As for the Police Officer being in school, I think it is an excellent way to make students of all colors feel more comfortable and it also helps the Police Officer keep informed of what is going on in schools so any problems can be addressed properly. We use to have student monitors in grammar school so the system is not new. It has just become at an adult level and it works

Jason Cohen  

Posted: February 29th, 2020 12:31 PM

@Tommy, we don't know the exact times so it's hard to know if morning means 9am or 11am. My assumption was that they left late morning and got to village hall early afternoon but that's just a guess. The HS staff can't help out so organization would need to come from a parent or a volunteer .

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: February 29th, 2020 10:08 AM

Jason Cohen what I did not understand from the story is how the students walked out of the school in the morning and showed up in the afternoon at Village Hall. If the actions of the students are going to be condone then adults need to help these students better coordinate their planning. What they can do with the use of social media is plan to meet in lets say the student center at the High School to show their intentions of being at school and their defiance that they now need to make a statement so they march over to Village Hall. That certainly would give them enough time to make it at Village Hall before the afternoon and give them enough time to express their demands, send out for some hamburgers from McDonald's and then make it back to the Student Center to show they have accomplished their mission and gather information on what their next move needs to be to attain the goals they want

Jason Cohen  

Posted: February 29th, 2020 9:30 AM

@Tommy, I am not sure what you are asking. That's exactly my point. The kids left and then met and then spent the afternoon at village hall until right before it closed. The kids wouldn't have been able to meet and then make it to village hall and spend any actual time there if they waited until after school to do this per Rob's comment below about "doing it on their own time".

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: February 28th, 2020 7:51 PM

Jason Cohen maybe you can explain what you are talking about "A group of roughly 40 protestors, most of them Oak Park and River Forest High School students, staged a peaceful sit-in at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., on the afternoon of Feb. 26 after marching out of the high school that morning." The students marched out of school in the morning and had the sit in during the afternoon

Jason Cohen  

Posted: February 28th, 2020 1:39 PM

@Rob, this is their own time. What are you talking about? Kids miss and leave school all the time for a thousand different reasons. They are marked absent for everything they missed. What exactly requires discipline? They aren't bothering anyone at school. They wanted to go to village hall so when exactly were they supposed to do that? For the one hour they could make it there after school. How exactly is this hurting anyone? I would love to know what issue this causes for anyone outside of these students who made their choice.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: February 28th, 2020 10:25 AM

Demand and protest on your own time. OPRF school does not have the stones to discipline these kids. Just a "Ferris Bueller" day off. Absurd. Who is running the circus? Obviously, the students.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: February 28th, 2020 8:44 AM

If kids want to protest things a few times a year then who cares. The school has an attendance policy and if these kids are willing to miss a class or a day that's up to them. It's not our job to determine what people want to protest. I personally believe we should have a resource officer given how the world is today but that doesn't mean everyone has to agree with me. I really doubt the few hours missed will be a big problem for anyone involved.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 28th, 2020 8:26 AM

@ Bob Ruffulo: If this action was sponsored by the school, and one of those kids fell off the counter, who is at fault? Village or School. I might be behind times, but at one time there was a ordinance violation citation for kids who were caught off school grounds when school was in session.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: February 28th, 2020 7:44 AM

All students should have been arrested for leaving school. Demand, Demand, Demand Ridiculous

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: February 27th, 2020 8:35 PM

resources currently earmarked for a new police station should be resources that stay in the pockets of the tax payers. Lets not spend on anything.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 27th, 2020 11:42 AM

@ Colin. To determine if it was true passion, turn out on a Saturday morning at 8am would be a better measure than an opportunity to skip class.

Helen Vogel  

Posted: February 27th, 2020 11:12 AM

I appreciate the passion of the students, and I'm not sure how I feel about the SRO's. But someone or two (as pictured) standing on the desks, raised hands and chanting in protest, hardly is "peaceful" in my point of view. Wrong place, wrong platform. "D200 is paying the village to operate the program." These protests should go directly to the boards (at open meetings) of these entities and they should be backed by their tax paying parents. In the meantime- go back to class.

Colin Taylor  

Posted: February 27th, 2020 8:59 AM

Always happy to see young people with this kind of passion. Maybe they should stage an action at a D200 board meeting, since D200 has the authority to pull the SROs from the school?

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: February 26th, 2020 7:52 PM

This is another great story and maybe the Mayor can meet with the students at the high school and go over things if this is still relevant in a week

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