Orland Park library reactions prove tough to read
A recent incident at the Orland Park Public Library (OPPL) left a citizens group saying it might elicit praise or condemnation, depending on what you read into it.
The Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW) reported in a March 14 article on Illinois Leaks that on February 9 three high school girls told library employee Howard Griffin that an adult male was watching them and had left them a note asking them to contact him.
The unidentified man was specifically identified as black. Orland Park is approximately 96 percent white.
Griffin said he observed the man closely afterward, but that the man “stayed at his table until closing time."
The Orland Park Police were not called at the time, but the next morning library Director Mary Weimar called them "as a precaution.” The man returned to the library in mid-afternoon and three patrolmen responded and spoke to him. No action was taken.
The ECW pointed out the stark difference in treatment between the incident involving the black patron and a white man who viewed child pornography on library computers in 2011. Although three witnesses told library staff about his actions, the director and library staff did not call the police. They even allowed the man to return to the library and use the computers again.
Activist Megan Fox and her colleague, Kevin DuJan, broke the child pornography story in 2013. Fox observed a man looking at child pornography at a public computer and acting in a lewd manner around others, including children. Fox was not satisfied with the staff and director's responses, so she submitted FOIA requests for copies of the library's incident reports.
The internal incident reports revealed child pornography was openly accessed on March 8, 2011. The staff did not call the police, even though child pornography is a federal offense. In addition, women and children were allegedly accosted in the library and library staff were said to have been sexually harassed by some patrons.
The OPPL apparently changed its policies regarding suspicious behavior after settling out of court on the ensuing FOIA and Open Meeting Act (OMA) lawsuits. The ECW pointed out that the change in policies was likely due in part to the scrutiny and outrage following the earlier incidents.
In the February incident, when an adult male allegedly acted in an inappropriate manner, the staff reported the incident and the director called the police. As the ECW pointed out, "a grown man has no business hanging out in a public building 'watching' three high school girls and leaving them notes."
The ECW acknowledged that it could not determine whether Weimar changed library policies and now calls the police for any possible illegal action or if she reacted to the man's race. The group questioned her decision-making process but agreed that the police should decide if any illegal actions had occurred, rather than the library ignoring inappropriate behavior as the director and staff had done before.
The watchdog group said the steps taken in February by the OPPL appear to be in the right direction, but only future actions will decide if the library continues to handle inappropriate behaviors properly.