Freedom to Thrive's police critique comes up short

Opinion: Columns

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Bill Dwyer

One view

The recent One View by Freedom to Thrive's Kevin Barnhart [Alarming racial disparities in Oak Park policing, Viewpoints, Aug. 5], quite simply, reaches conclusions unwarranted by any supposed evidence he presents. Nothing Barnhart produced proves racism by cops because adding up a few lines of figures is not analysis, unless you're Donald Trump.

I've absolutely no doubt Black people continue to endure police stops at a far higher rate than Caucasians. But the causal factors related to those circumstances are anything but certain, and Barnhart brings no clarity to the issue with his superficial and biased arguments. He not only does not identify what's actually happening but disparages our local law enforcement with unsubstantiated accusations using data that is at best anecdotal.

Were the documented stops justified? What triggered them? What was the resolution. And were the subjects Oak Park residents or from outside Oak Park?

Freedom to Thrive, which is actively seeking to change government policy, doesn't say. Yet they accuse Oak Park police of the serious misconduct of unfounded racial profiling, and village residents of racist fears, while offering no evidence for that claim except that far more Blacks are stopped and questioned than any other group.

"Black is the color of suspicion in Oak Park, especially for males," Barnhart says. But he ignores another truth, that Black is the color of the majority of criminal activity in Oak Park. And that uncomfortable truth must be factored into any honest discussion.

And it must be just that — a discussion, a dialogue, not a monologue.

It's one thing to point to out the denial that most whites have been guilty of, regarding the onerous realities Black people face. It's quite another to treat anyone with legitimate questions or criticisms as if they're coming from William Barr.

Freedom to Thrive has neither a monopoly on truth nor immunity from bias; not everyone who disagrees with their conclusions is a "denier "or trying to "distract" from the truth. There are numerous possible causal factors for the racial disparity in stops by Oak Park police.

I want to be absolutely clear — I blame the historical indifference of a white-dominated society for the injustices that plague Black America. Period. Full stop. Education and employment and housing options were systematically denied Blacks and others for many decades. It must stop.

But I don't accept unwarranted blame placed on officers of the Oak Park Police Department who have to deal daily with realities created by systemic racism.

Oak Park borders Chicago's Austin neighborhood, which has many active street gangs, and one of the largest concentrations of paroled felons in the country. A few years ago, a report by the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration stated that "roughly two-thirds of the 35,000 prisoners who are released from Illinois prisons each year return to just seven zip codes on the West and South sides of Chicago, where black male unemployment is over 40 percent." Another paper estimated that approximately 30,000 ex-offenders were residing in Austin then.

When police get a call of a "Black male, 20 to 25 years old, 5-foot-7 to 5-foot 9, 140 to 160 pounds, medium build and dreadlocks, wearing a white T-shirt," in an alley looking at garages, they don't look for dumpy middle-aged white guys in suits heading to work.

That's not bias.

Oak Park police are right to urge citizens to call them when they see suspicious activity. For every overwrought or even racist person calling on innocent Black kids playing baseball, there are dozens more reporting genuinely suspicious behavior.

Ironically, a closer look at what Barnhart and Paradisis found strongly suggests they need to take another look at the Field Contact statistics on which they base their conclusions. By the very numbers they use — 753 field contacts in the 65½ months from January 2015 to June 2020 with Black subjects — the dozens of Oak Park police officers on the streets, who get on average 180 calls for service daily, purportedly had reasonable suspicion to conduct a field contact with a Black person an average of once every two and a half days.

And actually, of those 753 stops, 57 were for trespass, panhandling, junking and, best I can tell, soliciting ("SOLI"). So the more accurate number is 696.

I've long been disgusted with Republicans' use of societal dog whistles, and their dishonesty in forming conclusions, then working backward to craft justifications for them. I have no tolerance when the same practices are used by the political left, pejorative terms like "deniers" and "distracting" that serve only to cut off dialogue.

Poorly analyzed research and unsubstantiated assumptions provide aid and comfort to those on the right who seek to dismiss liberal and progressive initiatives.

Oak Park isn't perfect. But it's not Ferguson Missouri, not Minneapolis, not Aurora, Colorado or Chicago. We need to raise the racial awareness of the overwrought few, not disparage the legitimate concerns of the majority. And Freedom to Thrive needs to do its homework, stop conflating local and national circumstances, and drop their one-size-fits-all approach.

Bill Dwyer is an Oak Park resident and former staff writer for Wednesday Journal.

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William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: August 17th, 2020 3:41 PM

It wasn't aimed at you, Kevin. Sorry for any offense.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 17th, 2020 10:38 AM

Thanks for the condescension, Bill. I voted for Hillary, Obama twice, and now Biden

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: August 17th, 2020 10:28 AM

Thanks, Bill. Demagoguery of any kind-- whether in support of the left or the right, is no way to design a policy solution, much less bring a community that is as rich and diverse as OP's together. In many ways, your points parallel the Chicago Trib's Dahleen Glanton's in that both are urging rational analysis vs. purely emotional response, while acknowledging that there is definitely a lot of hurt out there.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: August 17th, 2020 8:37 AM

I'm sorry, Kevin. I can't talk with you. Apparently we've been playing some sort of ball game, not having a policy/political discussion. And I have taken the ball and gone home. (well, on vacation). :-) But yeah, a lotta jive, a lotta yang form the FTT gang. Far right, far left, different perspectives, same sorta nonsense.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 16th, 2020 11:56 PM

Bill Dwyer: You've obviously misunderstood the thrust of this group. It's actually "Freedom to JIVE". There's a lot of Jive in their rhetoric, if one can call it that.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: August 16th, 2020 10:45 PM

@ Mr. Krasinsky. By denying crime data clearly indicating something you enjoy to deny, makes you intellectually lazier than anyone else in the room. Yes, each stop is potentially traumatic, but how many actually are? Any statistics on that or from your few stories you've heard, are you assuming all of them are? When black men stop committing a grossly disproportionate amount of the crime in Oak Park, I will stop crossing the street when I see one walking towards me.

Steve Krasinsky  

Posted: August 16th, 2020 8:32 PM

Now that Mr. Dwyer is done with the predictable name-calling - for anyone keeping score, first I was a radical leftist & now I'm a latte sipping liberal - before taking his ball and going home, I'm glad to have the last word. We have a serious racial profiling problem in Oak Park. 94% of the stops made by the OPPD of young people are Black kids. That is a statistic that we should all be ashamed of. Full stop, as Mr. Dwyer likes to say, although he rarely seems to mean it. Are police indiscriminately beating and killing Black people in our village? No. Does that mean that we don't have a serious racial profiling issue? Of course not. Each of those stops is potentially traumatic experience for the young Black people unfortunate enough to experience them. Recognizing this, we need to reassess as a community how police are using their power in interactions with Black and especially young Black people in our village. The volunteer members Freedom To Thrive have heard anecdotal stories from many, many Black youth and parents of Black youth. Now, thanks to Freedom To Thrive's efforts, we have hard data to back up their experience of over-policing in Oak Park. Denying their experience in the face of all of the stories and the overwhelming evidence, as Mr. Dwyer shamefully does in his piece, is tantamount to gaslighting and should have no place in our discussion of this issue. Our community can, and must do better. We must do the work to ensure that all residents of Oak Park have the same freedom to thrive in our village.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: August 16th, 2020 8:05 AM

My last comment on this issue: This is Oak Park, not Chicago or elsewhere, and there is no ongoing abuse by police of Blacks or other minorities IN OAK PARK, and no evidence of it. Rude/inattentive cops are not the equivalent of handcuffing people face down on hot asphalt, and can be dealt with administratively, not with sweeping policy changes. If you want to address the police brutality that IS occurring, focus on Chicago and other cities. God spare us from the White Woke Latte Liberals.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 15th, 2020 10:07 PM

William Dwyer, Jr.., Bill: Thank you for starting a discourse on this and other matters The problem seems to be that discourse is starting to become impossible here. Oak Park is becoming even more polarized than the rest of the nation. This was once known as a tolerant, non-ideological village.

Steve Krasinsky  

Posted: August 15th, 2020 9:20 PM

Bill, it is intellectually lazy to compare me to a Trump supporter and to make the false equivalency between Trump supporters and what you call the "far left." There is nothing radical about outrage over the fact that 94% of field interrogations of under 18 year olds in our village are Black kids. Nothing. There are many of us in this village who know we can do better. We will continue to use FOIA and other tools to bring this injustice to light. Even as we have to endure knee-jerk reactions from people like you who are content to support the status-quo. You seem to be enamored with your tired formulation "I believe that you either accept peaceful evolution or contend with violent revolution." To that I'd refer you to the words of MLK who famously said, "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice." Gradualism, Bill, is what got us to this point. In your mind, MLK seems to be radical leftist. In ours, he is a light that keeps us focused on our efforts to create a village where all of our kids & residents can truly thrive. One more thing, referring to Black people as Blacks is so 1950s. Please stop.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: August 15th, 2020 8:53 AM

So Steve, the fact that, in Oak Park (and we're talking about Oak Park here, not anywhere else, so focus) it's not a "racist trope" as you put it, that Black people commit more crime. It's a documented fact. And it's really just too bad if you don't like that fact. Why that is is another discussion- I don't believe Blacks commit more crime (again, in Oak Park) because they're Black; the causation is a mix of things that need to be addressed and fixed. As for me weighing in with my opinion of theses matters, I won't be concerning myself with whether they seem to people like you to be exercising some privilege or facet of white supremacy. Because frankly I think people on the far left are just as prone as Trump voters to seeing what they want to see and ignoring any inconvenient facts. I believe that you either accept peaceful evolution or contend with violent revolution. That doesn't mean I agree with people like you on every detail. And you'll know when I don't, because I'll tell you so. And then you can make of it what you will.

Steve Krasinsky  

Posted: August 14th, 2020 10:22 PM

Hey Bill. Let's look again at what you said: "I want to be absolutely clear. I blame the historical indifference of a white-dominated society for the injustices that plague Black America. Period. Full stop." To be specific, white-supremacy is NOT indifference. White supremacy is active and performed by white people every day. And your article is a particularly good example. Here's a specific example of equivocation from your piece, "For every overwrought or even racist person calling [sic] on innocent Black kids playing baseball, there are dozens more reporting genuinely suspicious behavior." Please ask yourself what unsubstantiated assumption you are making here, and why. Dozens? Any data to back that up at all? How about we please close the book on the tired, racist trope that Black people commit the majority of the crime. Racist profiling produces racist outcomes. Period. Full stop. If you're only looking for Black crime, you only FIND Black crime. My question is, do we want to live in a community where 94% of the youth that the police stop in field interrogations are Black.94%! Do we want that for our kids? The point I was trying to make is that this is the reality from which we need to start this conversation. The reality of kids walking while Black in Oak Park. How about we start the conversation with BELIEVING the people that are being profiled. Especially, but not only, when there is hard data to back it up. We must center the voices of Black people in this debate. Not condescending white "journalists" looking to silence them.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: August 14th, 2020 5:59 PM

Steve, try being just a bit more specific in your criticism, that I'm "equivocat(ing) (and) mak(ing) excuses for one of the most potent & deadly instruments of systemic racism in our history." I know you're impressed with your argument, but I don't see what you're talking about. Want to elaborate, or just pontificate?

Steve Krasinsky  

Posted: August 14th, 2020 4:56 PM

Mr. Dwyer states: "I want to be absolutely clear ?" I blame the historical indifference of a white-dominated society for the injustices that plague Black America. Period. Full stop. " Yet he goes on to equivocate make excuses for one of the most potent & deadly instruments of systemic racism in our history. How about we start this conversation from an alternative, non-white perspective, Bill? How about we begin with the fact that FTT has heard from dozens of Black & Brown people in Oak Park & that they feel unfairly targeted by the police. Then we can continue with the actual OPPD DATA that supports that perspective. Now is not the time to tie ourselves in knots to make excuses. We're talking 94%! Equivocate all you want, but ANY measure of police activity that shows it's affecting 94% Black people is outrageous. Now is the time for the OPPD to listen to the voices of the people actually experiencing racial profiling. Now is the time to analyze the data from that perspective. The white perspective - i.e. the historical indifference you decry above & that you espouse, is what got us here in the first place.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: August 13th, 2020 4:57 PM

Go do your own research, Brian if you're so interested in knowing the answer. I'll just note for others that such a raving liberal as Anton Scalia has expressed concerns over police "qualified immunity."

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 13th, 2020 4:49 PM

@ Dwyer: Do States Attorneys have qualified immunity ?

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: August 13th, 2020 3:56 PM

This is what a smart, focused response to the problems with policing nation-wide looks like. From Washington Post: "U.S. Conference of Mayors recommends policing changes: Ban on chokeholds, mandatory body cams, limits on police union powers." And the end of qualified immunity.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: August 13th, 2020 10:24 AM

To be as clear as possible, I also believe what John F Kennedy said in 1962, before Watts in 1965 and other violent protests in 1967 and 1968,: . . ."Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." . . We can figure this mess out. But it starts with being honest with ourselves and others.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 13th, 2020 8:46 AM

This is well said. The WJ should also do a piece describing what exactly a stop is by the police. Because a cop driving to investigate something and talking to people on the scene is somehow being portrayed as some sort of massive evil. Asking people their name, doing an address check and figuring out if anything is happening that is wrong or not does not seem very onerous.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 13th, 2020 12:07 AM

Gee. This maybe is the second time I've ever totally agreed with William Dwyer. Well said. Well written. I hope William is not cancelled (because then I won't be able to rip his a.. when I totally disagree with him, which is often). Likewise I hope the WJ is not forced into a mea culpa retraction as seems to be the latest trend in journalism. LOL.

Amanda Poppenk Massie from Oak park  

Posted: August 12th, 2020 9:55 PM

Well said.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 12th, 2020 1:00 PM

Freedom to Thrive is a national organization, Along with Black Lives Matter, they are hurting their own cause. BLM has demanded that the 100 people arrested in the Chicago looting of Sunday night be released, since they were only taking what was rightfully theirs. What absurdity.

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