A Ticket for Speech

According to the Associated Press, Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski, a trustee in the Chicago suburb of Carpentersville, was issued a 75 dollar ticket for disorderly conduct after neighbors complained to police. 

Here’s what happened. Two children were playing in a tree next door to her house. She told the boys to get out of the tree because she was worried for their safety and because the magnolia tree was small and the boys were damaging it. 

The father, who evidently doesn’t understand what a trustee is, told her that it was none of her business.

This was her response: “I calmly said the tree is not there for them to be climbing in there like monkeys.”

The boys happened to be black. The mother of one of the boys called the police. In Illinois, there is an ordinance that bans conduct that disturbs or alarms other people. The police said that one boy was scared and a mother was disturbed. 

Why isn’t everybody in a panic over calling a black male “boy”? Could it be because context is everything?

Ramirez-Sliwinski says she will fight the ticket—as she should—but that she will not seek re-election to the board.

Turns out that there’s more to the story. Ramirez-Sliwinski is an Illinois delegate for Barack Obama, a position which she has resigned. The resignation was announced by Amy Brundage, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign. 

The AP story irresponsibly states that she was “using the word ‘monkeys’ to describe black children playing in a tree.” No, she wasn’t. She was using the word “monkeys” to describe boys playing in a tree.

Meanwhile, poverty among black children is still much greater than it is among white children. When are we going to do something about that?

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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