Photo by Anthony Caciopo
Sharon Brannigan of the Palos Township Board of Trustees listens to public testimony at the board’s Sept. 11 meeting.
“I am not anti-Arab. I am not anti-Muslim. I am not anti-immigrant. I apologize to anyone who felt offense at my words”
Embattled Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan has broken a long public silence regarding controversy that has embroiled her for months regarding social media postings she made that many consider offensive to Muslims and other people of Middle Eastern heritage.
“I want to issue a clarification of my statement to Arabs, Muslims and people from the Middle East of our community who took offense to comments I posted on my Facebook Page,” she said this week in a statement.
“Although my comments were not intended as being anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, I acknowledge that some residents felt they were and for that I am sorry. After deep reflection, I can honestly say that my words were poorly crafted and my feelings were inadequately expressed. Racism and discrimination is not my intent and is not in my heart,” Brannigan’s statement continued.
“I apologize to anyone who felt offense from my words. I failed to properly express myself.”
Response to Brannigan’s statement was swift from the ad-hoc coalition leading the call, and exerting the pressure, for her resignation or removal from the township board.
“Palos Township Arabs and Muslims remain firm in (their) demand for Brannigan’s resignation,” said Bassem Kawar, advocacy specialist for The Campaign To TAKE ON HATE as part of his own organization’s statement.
The community coalition insists that her apology is “too little, too late.”
“We asked for this apology months ago when it became clear that Brannigan had written racist social media posts attacking the township’s Arabs and Muslims, as well as its Middle East [sic] students,” said Kawar. “She refused back then to apologize, and is only doing this now to try to salvage her political career. We won’t accept it.”
Brannigan’s postings that have sparked the controversy include now-deleted messages in which she questioned the intentions of Middle Easterners entering the U.S., questioned the documentation status of children entering local schools, and compared First Lady Melania Trump with Muslim women who wear headscarves.
“WE AMERICAN WOMEN ARE REPRESENTED WITH DIGNITY,” she posted in upper-case letters, referring to a visit in May by the Trumps to the Middle East.
Beginning July 10, more than 100 protestors packed Palos Township headquarters, as they would for two more monthly meetings. They also held rallies in the parking lot at 10802 S. Roberts Road. Palos Hills.
The seating capacity of the meeting room is 42 and the crowd on July 10 could not be accommodated, resulting in many of those present being forced to wait in a vestibule or outside the building. The overflow situation prompted concern of fire code violation and possible violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
At that meeting, Brannigan read from a prepared statement which included a partial quote of the First Amendment, her insistence that the comments she made fell under her First Amendment rights, and “My published words on this platform (Facebook) regarding the taxes are for the sole purpose of bringing awareness to the property taxpayers occurring within our township.”
The August meeting, on the 14th of the month, was held at the same location and a similar-sized crowd arrived. Moments before the scheduled start of the meeting, it was cancelled by Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann, citing the lack of accommodation.
This month’s meeting was held on the 11th, also at the same location. At that meeting, a public-address loudspeaker was installed to enable people outside the room to hear the proceedings.
Talk has occasionally surfaced about the potential viability of a mea culpa from Brannigan.
“She needs to immediately start working toward some sort of apology,” said Oliver Kolb, who attended the July 10 meeting.
“It’s what’s right. I do believe she should probably step down, but regardless, an apology is always a first step,” he said.
In this week’s response to Brannigan from The Campaign To TAKE ON HATE, organizers said “Even though Brannigan’s apology letter states that she believes the ‘issues have been distorted’, the coalition remains firm in continuing to call for her resignation as trustee.
“She also states that she is ‘willing to meet with any Arabs or Muslims in Palos Township’ but she had every opportunity to extend her hand after the statements were discovered, and never did,” said Kawar in the statement.
“In fact, she did the opposite, insisting that she had every right to say whatever she wants. This apology now is insincere and clearly an example of political expediency, and the coalition rejects it.”
The ad-hoc coalition leading the effort to force Brannigan to resign includes the aforementioned Campaign To TAKE ON HATE, National Network for Arab American Communities, Arab American Action Network, Arab American Family Services, Arab American Democratic Club, AMVOTE PAC, Kiswani Law, P.C., Law Offices of Reem Odeh and individual community residents and activists, according to the coalition’s organizers.
The protestors say they will be present at the next township meeting Oct. 6.