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Ex-Bear Clark and wife face charges in Vernon Hills; say they’re victims of racism

Former Chicago Bears star Desmond Clark says he never experienced racism growing up in Florida.

But he and his wife now face misdemeanor charges stemming from an incident at Vernon Hills High School for what they view as speaking out against racism and standing up for their son. His teen son and his wife have both been the targets of racism in the past three years, Clark said.

Friday afternoon, the couple turned themselves in to police. Clark is charged with disorderly conduct and his wife, Maria, is charged with disorderly conduct and assault in the Aug. 29 incident at the school.

“This is a huge overreaction,” their attorney, Frank Avila, said of the charges. “I think it’s racist. I think it’s disparate treatment and completely unfair.”

Clark and his wife were released after each posted 10 percent of a $2,500 bond. Avila said police originally sought $25,000 bonds for them, but Clark’s lawyers persuaded a judge to lower them Friday.

The couple turned themselves in at the Lincolnshire Police Department because the Vernon Hills police station is under renovation, Avila said. They were fingerprinted and their mug shots were taken.

The Vernon Hills police chief could not be reached for comment.

Clark said he and his wife rushed to the north suburban high school on Aug. 29 after his son called them saying an administrator demeaned him in front of other students.

Their son was part of a lip-sync team competing in a Saturday event at the school. But he was unable to perform because of an earlier violation of the school’s code of conduct, Clark said.

The team wanted to recognize the 17-year-old student for his contribution to the team, but the administrator refused, Clark said.

“She told our son, ‘This is an activity for good students who make good decisions.’ He said, ‘Am I a criminal because I made one mistake?’ and she said, ‘If he wants to act like a criminal, he can get out.’ ”

At the school, Clark’s wife confronted the administrator, repeatedly asking, “What did you say to my son?” according to Clark.

Clark said he gave an “impassioned speech about how our family has been treated.”

“I said, ‘Hey, we are so sick and tired of being singled out in this community. My son has been called a n—– repeatedly at school and was told his family hangs from trees — and was treated like a criminal. This needs to stop.’ ”

Clark said dozens — if not hundreds — of people heard his tirade, and many of them clapped.

He said he called the police and after they arrived, he left with his wife and son without any trouble.

Clark, 38, said he was notified about a week ago that he and his wife face charges in the incident.

Avila, his attorney, called the charges “crazy.”

He pointed out that Clark — a star tight end for the Bears between 2003 and 2010 — now works as a financial adviser and in past years helped coach the high school’s football team. His son is on the team, but is sitting out several games because of his school code violation.

Clark’s wife is attending college, with plans to become a pharmacist, Avila said.

“These people aren’t a threat,” Avila said.

“Why would you set bond at $25,000 each for them?” he said of the original bond that he says police sought. “They aren’t going anywhere.”

At the school on Aug. 29, Desmond Clark was simply expressing his opinion to the parents, students and administrators gathered there — and wasn’t creating disorder, Avila said.

And his wife never threatened to harm the administrator she confronted, Avila said.

The district has barred Clark from the school grounds, where he had regularly played basketball with coaches at the school, Avila said.

A week ago, Clark was able to walk on the field for the football team’s senior day — but only after he agreed to be escorted by the athletic director and leave before the football game, Avila said.

“They’re afraid of him because he’s a big, black man,” Avila said.

Avila said he is considering filing a lawsuit against the school district for allegedly violating his clients’ civil rights — and may ask the feds to investigate, too.

Vernon Hills High School principal Jon Guillaume said he couldn’t comment on the incident because “it’s a police matter.”

“We do our very best to apply rules and behavioral guidelines fairly and consistently and when there is a problem,” Guillaume said.

“We do our very best to address it head-on and not sidestep it in the most fair and consistent way. It’s disappointing if we have any family who feel unfairly treated. We don’t want that to be the case. Ultimately, we want all our students to feel safe and fairly treated,” he said.

But Clark said the Aug. 29 incident was just the latest in three years of mistreatment his son has suffered at the school.

When his son was a freshman in 2012, another student called him n—– in the locker room, Clark said. The incident resulted in a conference with administrators “about appropriate use of language in school,” he said.

The next year, a student approached his son in the cafeteria and said his “family hangs from trees in the front yard,” Clark said. “The kid wrote a note to my son to apologize and we moved on.”

Then in 2014, an administrator questioned why his son was at school after hours, Clark said.

“My son plays football, basketball, and spent more time at school than anywhere,” Clark said. “She badgered him like he didn’t belong there.” He said the administrator apologized to his son at a conference with the principal.

Clark said his wife was involved in a racially charged incident while shopping at a Target store on May 31. A woman rolled a shopping cart over her foot and didn’t immediately apologize, Clark said.

They got into a physical altercation after the woman called her a “n—– bitch,” Clark said.

Maria Clark was charged with battery in the incident and the other woman was charged with disorderly conduct, court records show. The case is pending.

Clark, who was affectionately known as “Dez” by Bears fans, said the string of alleged racial incidents has taken a toll on him and his family.

His son didn’t want to return to school after the Aug. 29 incident, but Clark said he persuaded him to go back.

“I have not faced racism my entire adult life,” he said. “My mom was in law enforcement. She worked for the Florida Highway Patrol. I have never been in trouble before. Now mom has three to six months on Earth. She is dying of cancer. You talk about stress levels. But I can’t see my mom because I have to be with my family here. It’s very hard.”