Editorial: Making the race conversation local

  • Vicki Chung, a member of Mount Prospect's Community Engagement Committee, addresses the village board recently about an upcoming virtual discussion of racial justice, equality, diversity and inclusion.

      Vicki Chung, a member of Mount Prospect's Community Engagement Committee, addresses the village board recently about an upcoming virtual discussion of racial justice, equality, diversity and inclusion. Steve Zalusky szalusky@dailyherald.com

 
Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 7/23/2020 11:21 AM

When Mount Prospect created its Community Engagement Committee in 2019, it didn't come without some risk. After all, when you ask a community of 54,000 people to engage -- and talk openly about problems they have seen or experienced in the village - you are opening yourself up to get a lot more than you bargained for.

This coming Tuesday might be village leaders' riskiest venture yet, but it's a chance worth taking, and one other communities should think about emulating.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The committee will host a 90-minute, virtual "community conversation" on the topics of racial justice, equality, diversity and inclusion, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. To participate, Mount Prospect residents will register online at www.mountprospect.org/departments/human-services or https://tinyurl.com/yy2g6tj7.

It's evident that America is having a very loud, and very necessary conversation about these topics now. But there is precious little discussion going on locally -- where each of us live, make our homes and raise our families.

All politics is local goes the saying, but that's because the most important quality of life issues are close to home. Whether or not there is racial justice in this country depends a lot -- not all, but a lot -- on how it is perceived and acted upon in each town, each neighborhood, each suburban block and around every dinner table.

"I think the community is dying for this conversation," Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek told reporter Steve Zalusky. "They're begging for it."

We hope so. It seems like a pretty proactive community approach to encouraging civil and constructive public discussion. And even people who think they have nothing to say could certainly find something worth hearing, if they tune in.

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Juracek said she and other village leaders regularly hear from people who say they've been discriminated against or unfairly singled out.

It's too bad that current circumstances prevent this from being an in-person event, where audience members could meet each other, and who knows, maybe even go out for coffee afterwards.

But Mount Prospect is right not to delay. The issue is now, the conversation needs to begin now.

Like many other older suburbs, Mount Prospect is predominately white, with a small but significant Hispanic population and a smaller African American population. There are not necessarily lots of spaces in the village where all those people interact.

It's worth remembering that 20 years ago, the village was the subject of a federal investigation started when a fired Mount Prospect police officer claimed that police supervisors ordered officers to target Hispanic drivers for traffic stops.

The investigation came to an end in 2003 when, although it admitted no wrongdoing, the village agreed to a number of reforms -- including codifying nondiscrimination in policing and documenting traffic stops by race, ethnicity and gender. Since then, besides following its own policies, the village has embraced community policing and opportunities for residents and police to interact in friendly settings.In fact, Community Engagement Committee member Trisha Chokshi said the idea for the conversation developed out of an effort to get residents to attend local police beat meetings, which, until the death of George Floyd, had such low attendance that sometimes there were more officers than residents.

It's a good beginning. Talking -- and above all listening -- are always a good place to start. Kudos to Mount Prospect for giving residents a voice, and presumably being prepared to follow up on what those voices say.

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