DuPage officials looking for 'concrete actions' to improve race relations

DuPage officials say more needs to be done to improve race relations in the county following the protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

County board member Sadia Covert condemned the violence that happened earlier this week in Aurora and Naperville, saying the individuals who looted and vandalized businesses caused "a distraction from the real issues" raised by peaceful protesters.

But the Naperville Democrat said county officials shouldn't ignore the legitimate concerns of protesters.

"People want to be heard," she said.

To that end, county board Chairman Dan Cronin said he's asking the DuPage Complete Count Committee to reach out to minority groups.

The committee, which educates residents about the importance of the 2020 census, has a diverse membership, including representatives from the NAACP and Unity Partnership. Covert serves as chairwoman of the panel.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Cronin told county board members he wants the committee "to utilize the great expertise of its membership to devote one of its upcoming meetings ... to a dialogue regarding diversity and inclusion."

"From that dialogue, I hope to determine some suggestions for concrete actions our county, our businesses and municipal leadership can take to improve race relations and make every DuPage resident feel welcome and included," the Elmhurst Republican wrote.

Outcomes of the discussion could include recommendations to increase minority participation in job training and education programs. There also could be suggestions on how to increase minority representation on public and private boards and commissions.

Cronin said DuPage has taken previous steps to increase diversity and inclusion, including by expanding its strategic plan and appointing "qualified, diverse candidates" to local boards and commissions. In addition, he said the county is a leader in law enforcement training.

"DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin and Sheriff Jim Mendrick have made significant investments in training for crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques that result in calmer interactions and peaceful, positive conflict resolution," Cronin said.

But after the events of the past week, Cronin acknowledges "we have more work to do."

Board member Dawn DeSart said what happened to Floyd on May 25 was "an abomination" and should never happen again.

"I applaud the peaceful protesters who are making their voices heard for justice," the Aurora Democrat said.

Moving forward, DeSart said DuPage officials must do a better job of listening. "We must listen to people's needs and allow all to join the conversation," she said.

Board member Elizabeth Chaplin said she wants county leaders to become "allies in the fight against racism."

The Downers Grove Democrat says the board should work on legislation and do an examination of county policies and procedures.

"People want change," Chaplin said. "They want action."

Sadia Covert
Dawn DeSart
Elizabeth Chaplin
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