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Protesters take over Palos Township officials’ seats at board meeting

palos protestors photo 12 13 Photo by Anthony Caciopo

Nadiah Loufti calls for the shutdown of the Palos Township Board meeting after she and seven other demonstrators took the seats of the board members moments before the meeting was scheduled to begin Monday evening.

By Anthony Caciopo

In what was perhaps the boldest and most startling move since demonstrations began at Palos Township meetings in July 2017, protesters took over the Township Board’s seats moments before the was to begin.

“We, the Arab community of the Southwest Suburbs are shutting this meeting down because for the past 18 months, the entire board of trustees has been silent on the issues of racism and white supremacy and have refused to condemn (Trustee Sharon) Brannigan’s words,” shouted Nadiah Loufti, to a near-thunderous response of chants and slogans from approximately 40 other people in the room, some who did not share her opinion.

Loufti and seven fellow demonstrators strode to the front of the meeting room mere seconds before board members were about to take their seats to begin the Township’s monthly general meeting.

Surprise was clearly on the faces of at least two elected officials closest to the inner-office door they were about to walk out of into the meeting room. Township Supervisor Colleen Grant Schumann said the following day, ‘It was shocking. The anger, I have to come back to that yet again, I listened to the pounding of the table and the disrespect of the process of what we’re trying to accomplish for the residents.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

The protesters are focused on the resignation or removal of Brannigan, who angered many people last year through social media posts that have been considered racist and insulting to Muslims and others of Middle Eastern heritage.

Since that time, overflow crowds of demonstrators have packed the Palos Township administration building, 10802 S. Roberts Road in Palos Hills, each month to apply pressure to her and to her fellow elected officials in an effort to oust her from office.

After a delay of at least 20 minutes, and after three law enforcement officers from the Palos Hills Police Department entered the room, elected officials were able to claim their seats. They held their meeting with the aid of a microphone and loudspeaker but like so many previous meetings, could be barely heard above the cacophony in the room.

Still, said Schumann, the Board was able to complete the agenda of the evening’s business.

“We passed our (tax) levy for the Township and our levy for the road and bridge district because they need to be filed by next week,” she said. “We are not increasing the levy,” she said, noting there’s been no increase for the last six years.

“We reappointed two Palos Fire Protection District trustees. We’ve got quite a few across the district we still need to do,” Schumann said. “Those were our main objectives.”

Palos Township covers all or parts of Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Orland Park, Willow Springs, Worth, Bridgeview and Hickory Hills.

Brannigan wore a body camera clipped onto her blouse, a device she told The Reporter she uses to provide proof of the harassment she and her husband have experienced.

“After last month’s Board meeting (Nov. 15), the protesters followed my husband and I out to our vehicle behind the Township building whereby they screamed and chanted at me calling me horrible names,” she said.

“After my husband helped me into our vehicle and he walked around to get in his side, the protesters started pushing him. They surrounded us, about 15 of them,” she said, describing how a “ringleader of the fascists” clapped and cheered the protesters on.

“We were unable to leave the parking lot,” Brannigan said. “I called 911 at about 7:46 and then again at 7:47 for help. The police did arrive and guided the protesters away from our vehicle so we could proceed out. I will not be put in a situation like that again without proof that these ill-mannered thugs will be shown for what they really are, hence the reason for the body camera.”

She said she has made a Freedom of Information request for the audiotape and will be posting the videos from her camera online.

Brannigan flatly denied claims by the protesters that her husband responded to the chants by using one of his own with the words “white supremacy.”

“I am deeply offended and if anyone knows my husband, knows that accusation to be untrue,” she said.

Brannigan had about a dozen supporters at the meeting, including Hemant Patel who said he came to the U.S. from India 30 years ago.

“This is sad to see in America,” he said. “We don’t expect this kind of mob thing.

“People elected her, we have to honor the people’s decision. Wait until the next election. This is a democratic country,” said Patel.

“I’m here because I love this country,” said Prasad Yalamanchi. “As a child, I read about (presidents) Lincoln and Washington in grade school. When Kennedy came to power, it inspired me. My hair would stick up when I’d hear his speeches — ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’”

Like Patel, Yalamanchi said the solution to the Palos Township situation is to let Brannigan serve her term in office, and let the voters decide if she should be defeated.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin, who described himself as a human rights advocate, cited a highly controversial 1977 situation in Skokie in which the courts allowed a Nazi rally in the community with a large Jewish population.

“I have people in my family who didn’t survive the Holocaust,” he said. “We were angry and absolutely offended, I’m sure just as these people are (in Palos). But in the end, we realized upholding the Constitutional rights is so much more important than our personal offense.”

Most of the Brannigan supporters had arrived by bus from the northern suburbs and opinion ran high that they were members of Act for America, described as a hate group by Bassem Kawar, national campaign coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities.

The bus had already departed for the evening before The Reporter could question anyone who used it.

“To get to this level, where you’re busing brown people to confront brown people just shows how much of a racist you are,” he said of Brannigan.

Brannigan says she did not arrange the transportation for the people who supported her.

“I have heard of the group Act for America. I believe that some of the supporters from that group were at last night’s meeting,” she told The Reporter.

“As far as labeling them ‘anti-Muslim,’ that is fake news. If you are going to label them ‘anti-Muslim,’ you must label the groups protesting me, Take On Hate, Our Revolution and Arab American Action Network as anti-American. Just check any of those websites or Facebook pages to see for yourself.”

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