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Oak Park - River Forest HS students walk out to protest police violence

The students marched to Oak Park Village Hall and staged a sit-in.

Oak Park and River Forest High School students march to a rally at Oak Park Village Hall to protest police violence in honor of Trayvon Martin, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.
Oak Park and River Forest High School students march to a rally at Oak Park Village Hall to protest police violence on Wednesday. The protest was held in honor of Trayvon Martin on the eighth anniversary of his death.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

More than 100 students from Oak Park and River Forest High School walked out of class Wednesday morning and marched about a mile south to Oak Park Village Hall for a rally and sit-in.

The protest occurred “in commemoration of the young black victims who are killed by police violence,” organizers said in a news release. Wednesday was the eighth anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, a black teen fatally shot while visiting Florida.

Several students wore black hooded sweatshirts that read “We are Trayvon.”

Organizers said they also oppose the presence of a school resource officer from the Oak Park Police Department assigned to the high school.

“Oak Park has a punitive relationship with its black and Latinx residents,” the news release said, noting that “students are not safer with Oak Park police officers in schools.”

“[Police] treat students as criminals, rather than children, because they are trained to deal with criminals, not children.”

Protesters blocked the village hall’s main entrance, chanting: “We will not move until our demands are met.” They gave a list of demands, including that “a strong racial equity policy be adopted by the village of Oak Park” to a representative from the mayor’s office.

The district’s superintendent, Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, in an email to parents Tuesday, advised that students would not be stopped if they chose to walk out in protest, but that they would be marked absent and the absence would not be excused later. Faculty and staff were barred from promoting or participating in the walkout.

Martin’s death, which prompted a national debate about race, occurred after the unarmed 17-year-old high school student was shot in the chest in February 2012 in Sanford, Florida, by a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who said he acted in self defense, was eventually acquitted of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the case.