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Second year, more Brannigan protests

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Photo by Dermot Connolly

Sam Elmosa turns to the audience at the Palos Township board meeting on Monday after reading out the original comments made by Trustee Sharon Brannigan (seated), and questioning why anyone in attendance would accept her apology.

By Dermot Connolly

The Palos Township Board of Trustees meeting on Monday marked the second anniversary of protests calling for Trustee Sharon Brannigan’s resignation, and protesters again came out in large numbers, determined as ever to see her step down.

During the meeting, Brannigan reiterated an apology she made in September 2017 for the “unintentionally insensitive comments” on Facebook that resulted in vocal protests at every meeting since they came to light in July 2017. But although a few audience members spoke out in her defense on Monday, a diverse crowd estimated at more than 100 led by the Take Back the Hate grassroots organization refused to accept anything less than her resignation.

One of the original comments that got people upset asked “Why are all our schools filling with Middle Eastern students without documentation?” Another seemed to criticize Muslim women who wear headscarves.

The protesters rallied outside the Palos Township administration center at 10802 S. Roberts Road before the 6:30 p.m. meeting, promising to back candidates running against Brannigan and other board members in 2020. Most stayed outside the small board room when the meeting began, listening on speakers. But their voices were heard inside, with chants of “racist” breaking out every time Brannigan spoke or her name was mentioned.

The only item of business on the agenda was ratification of an agreement with the PPS. Inc. security company, but that was tabled until the next meeting at the suggestion of township Supervisor Colleen Grant-Schumann.

Brannigan then read her statement of apology.

“For the sake of our children, and the sake of the towship residents, I am reiterating my apology for my unintentionally insensitive remarks. I hope you will take my hand of peace offering, and help us move beyond this dark cloud to a more enlightened understanding and awareness for everyone on all sides.”

“We must set the example. We have no choice for our children, as our world and communities come closer together. We must make communication and forgiveness a priority,” she said.

Brannigan also pointed to comments made by Palestinian-American community activist Anna Mustafa of Palos Heights, who was at the meeting, and columnist Ray Hanania that the protests are “counter-productive.”

She said she endorsed a suggestion made by Mustafa to form a community committee to “to build bridges and promote understanding.”

“I think that is a great idea. The suggestion was made just hours ago, but as soon as details become available, we will let you know. Let us please remember that respect is a two-way street and are all human. God bless all here.”

Mustafa was the first to speak when the floor was opened for public comment.

“I do appreciate that apology, that is a starting point,” she said. “The issue is extremely sensitive to our community and it has boiled over for over two years. Hopefully it is for the benefit of Palos Township, for the residents of the township, and for you and the workings of this township. We look forward to the liaison we are going to be forming. (But) as much as I love your words, I am going to be monitoring your action. We want people to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. This is a start and I appreciate it,” she concluded.

Mustafa got a smattering of applause from the audience, and one speaker said the board had “the patience of Job” for putting up with the protesters. But those speaking in favor of Brannigan were greatly outnumbered by the protesters. A Palos Hills woman who declined to give her name for safety reasons told Brannigan that while she appreciated her apology, “I hope they get somebody to run against you.”

“Two years on and twice crocodile tears later, the time for false apologies is long gone. You had the chance to apologize immediately. But you said it was your First Amendment right to say what you did. That is true but the First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of what you say,” said one man who identified himself as Mohammed.

He also criticized the Arab-Americans she thanked for accepting her apology, calling them “the parade of mediocre Arabs that you were able to able to dredge up.”

Referring to the shouts of “racists go home” coming from outside, one man noted that the township spends roughly $1 million annually for healthcare and other community programs, and asked whether the board or anyone on it has been accused of racism or discrimination of any kind?

“The answer to that is ‘no,’” said Grant-Schumann.

One woman criticized the board for standing behind Brannigan rather than censuring her. She said she “threatened all children” by questioning the legal status of Middle Eastern students, and “crossed the line that could not be uncrossed. Are you going to come after the Latino children too?”

The final speaker was Sam Elmosa, who criticized Brannigan’s defenders, and read her original statements — asserting that he would be protesting no matter what group she was referring to.

“Whoever agrees with her is not American. You don’t cut down a whole group of people or a religion. She must resign,” said Elmosa, who left to cheers from supporters outside shouting “We’ll be back.”

 

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