Four armed security guards watched over the southwest suburban Palos Township government meeting last night as activists who have been protesting the township for two years kept up their call for trustee Sharon Brannigan to resign and blasted the recent addition of armed guards as intimidation.
“We have the right to assemble and speak out against racism in our township. All our protests have been peaceful and yet the armed security are trying to silence us,” one woman told trustees. “Your hypocrisy and racism is showing. If we were white, there would be no armed security here.” The speaker declined to give her name, citing safety concerns, but said she is employed by the group Take On Hate.
Arab-American, Muslim and anti-racism activists have been disrupting Palos Township meetings since July 2017. They bring whistles, they holler — one month they occupied trustees’ chairs — all in an effort to force trustee Sharon Brannigan to resign over what they say are racist comments she made on social media in 2015. Brannigan complained that Muslims don’t integrate and that local schools are filling up with Middle Eastern students.
Brannigan has apologized for the comments but has refused to step down.
Township supervisor Colleen Grant-Schumann defended the decision to hire Chicago-based Monterrey Security, saying protesters’ tactics have left the township no choice but to hire security, to protect the public and decorum of the meetings. “When your whole purpose is just to shut down a meeting — which is what they were doing — by sitting in our seats and by having noisemakers — I mean, there isn’t any other governmental body where that would go on.”
There was one armed guard for every seven people admitted to Monday night’s meeting.
Grant-Schumann said she never imagined the stand-off would come to this.
“I never expected that Palos Township would have security guards with guns, standing in our boardroom. I mean, it is just an absolutely sad moment for me that this is what it had to come to. Again, this is their choice. It is not our choice.”
Security guards — unarmed — were first brought in for the June meeting. Five protesters were arrested that night. Unarmed guards also monitored the July meeting. But Grant-Schumann said the first security firm declined to continue, and the township then hired Monterrey Security. Grant-Schumann said the township did not ask specifically for armed guards, but that’s what Monterrey sent.
Monday’s meeting did not include any chanting. Brannigan noted the change to reporters after the meeting. “In two and a half years everything’s the same, except tonight they were well behaved.” Asked why, Brannigan said, “because now we have security and we have cameras and we arrested them back in June.”
Linda Lutton is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @lindalutton.