Naperville representative's 'white supremacist' comments sparking conversation

Freshman State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, a Naperville Democrat, is standing by her comments about "white supremacist policies" in her hometown, saying she's unfazed by criticism and encouraged her words are starting conversations about historical and ongoing racism in the region.

The 81st District representative, who also has launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Dick Durbin, says what she sees in Naperville - and the Chicago area as a whole - is "white supremacy in an unclad kind of way, without its hood on."

She points to what she calls racial profiling during traffic stops, questionable police hiring, discrimination in housing and home showings, largely white teacher populations, high rates of black student suspensions and low rates of black student enrollment in advanced placement courses as evidence of "white ignorance" in Naperville policies.

"As soon as people realize that they have some ignorance, mostly they want to solve it," she said. "They aren't heartless. So the people of Naperville I specifically didn't call white supremacist because I think they truly don't want to be white supremacists. I called the policies white supremacist."

Stava-Murray's comments have drawn demands for apologies from the Lisle and Naperville Township Republican Organizations, as well as calls by Naperville City Council member Kevin Coyne and others for her to be censured.

"What I feel most uplifted by since I made those comments, and since the subsequent press coverage, is actually that several groups I've heard of have actually been discussing what racism looks like today in Naperville," she said. "And how do we change it."

Many Naperville leaders, including Mayor Steve Chirico, who has worked to diversify membership on the city's advisory boards and commissions, say her claims of "white supremacist policies" are far from the truth.

"I don't think it's a fair characterization," Chirico said.

Some say the criticism of harboring white favoritism doesn't fit a city becoming known as a hub of Indian-American business and culture. Naperville demographics show the city is 68.3 percent white, 17.9 percent Asian, 5.7 percent Hispanic, 5 percent black and 3.2 percent two or more races, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in July 2018.

"If it was that kind of supremacist city," says Krishna Bansal, chairman of Naperville Indian Community Outreach, a group formed by late Mayor George Pradel in 2013 along with a counterpart for Chinese outreach, "why would people come here?"

Police hiring

Stava-Murray previously served as a member of the Naperville board of fire and police commissioners and said the board regularly reviewed the results of psychological tests police applicants are required to take, which showed how likely each candidate was to engage in "racially offensive conduct."

"We had a very high threshold for what we would tolerate in terms of predictive analytics that someone, a police officer, would have racially offensive contact," Stava-Murray said.

Chirico said the city follows a nationally standardized process for hiring police officers and maintains a review board specifically to discuss issues such as inherent bias before making decisions. He said he trusts the hiring process as well as police Chief Robert Marshall's emphasis on diversifying his force.

"It would be really, really hard to make a case that our recruitment process or our hiring process is somehow biased," Chirico said. "It's just not."

"We flatly deny and oppose any insinuation that Naperville hires police officers who are not appropriately vetted and highly qualified," read a statement from city hall.

Racial profiling

Stava-Murray said that even a generation ago, when she was growing up on the east side of town, "everyone knew the cops would sit along Naper (Boulevard) to try and catch the people from Bolingbrook coming into Naperville. ... So 'catch the people from Bolingbrook' is just white-person code for the people of color that live in Bolingbrook because they weren't allowed to live in Naperville."

Chirico said he is not concerned, saying that if it were a problem, those affected would be talking about it.

Statistics provided to the Illinois Department of Transportation show white drivers were pulled over during 63 percent of the 13,342 traffic stops conducted in 2017 in Naperville, and minority drivers were involved in the remaining 37 percent of stops. Statewide, police stopped white drivers 58 percent of the time in 2017 and pulled over minority drivers in 42 percent of stops.

Real estate showings

Stava-Murray claims real estate agents in Naperville have not shown housing options fairly and "have said offline a lot of racially coded items such as 'these are safe schools,' which usually means majority white."

Naperville City Council member Patty Gustin, who sells real estate for Charles Rutenberg Realty, said she is offended by Stava-Murray's comments, which she says "create fake barriers and drive people away."

"I have not observed Realtors violating fair housing laws," Gustin said. "To the contrary, we work especially hard to build a diverse community."

Treatment of students

Stava-Murray said the same can't be said of Naperville Unit District 203. She said the district suspends black students at a rate nine times as high as white students, and white students are three times as likely as blacks to take advanced placement classes. Teachers in the district, she said, are 92 percent white, which Illinois Report Card data shows is a decrease from a 96 percent white teacher population in 2009.

"There's a particularly virulent anti-black racism that occurs in our area," she said.

District 203 did not immediately provide its rates of student suspension or AP class participation by race.

But officials on Friday acknowledged a national trend of disproportionate disciplinary action against black students and said the trend "also holds true in Naperville 203."

To try to address the disparity, the district has implemented policies including placement in alternative schools instead of expulsion and has created a diversity advisory committee.

"This is not a new issue for Naperville 203, but we are actively working to address it," Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion, said in a written statement. "We are committed to inclusive practices and supporting the educational and emotional needs of all students in the district."

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