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Preckwinkle apologizes to woman berated by man at forest preserve for wearing Puerto Rican flag shirt

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Gregory Pratt

Preckwinkle apologizes to woman berated by man at forest preserve for wearing Puerto Rican flag shirt

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle offered an apology Tuesday to a woman seen on video being verbally attacked by a man because she was wearing a Puerto Rican flag T-shirt, while a Forest Preserve District officer apparently stood by and watched.

In the video, a man demands to know why the woman is wearing a shirt displaying the Puerto Rican flag. He asks her whether she is an American citizen, even though Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.

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“You should not be wearing that in the United States of America,” the man tells her.

The June 14 incident at Caldwell Woods on the Far Northwest Side came to light Monday and has also attracted the attention of Ricardo Rossello, governor of Puerto Rico, who released a series of tweets on the incident.

Speaking at an unrelated event, Preckwinkle called the incident “completely unacceptable” and offered her apologies to the victim for the “terrible experience.”

“We’ve worked hard over the last 7 1/2 years to make the Forest Preserve District a welcoming place for all. The incident in June is completely unacceptable. I apologize to the young woman who had this terrible experience. I’m troubled by the response of the initial officer on the scene,” Preckwinkle said, noting the district is investigating and the officer has been assigned to desk duty pending the investigation’s outcome.

She said the officer should have intervened as the man in the video “was abusive and offensive in his behavior” and the woman had a permit to use the space. But Preckwinkle demurred when asked if the officer should be fired, saying she doesn’t know the specific rules in the Forest Preserve District for conduct unbecoming an officer.

READ MORE: Video appears to show Forest Preserves officer failing to help woman being harassed over Puerto Rican flag shirt »

In a series of tweets about the incident, Rosello said he hoped Preckwinkle would involve herself in the matter and that the initial officer on the scene “be expelled from the police force” for not calming the situation. Rosello called the incident “undignified” and said he was “appalled, shocked & disturbed.”

“The United States of America is a nation that was built and thrives on diversity. We cannot allow those who do not understand America’s greatness to terrorize people because of their background. This is not the America we all believe in,” Rosello tweeted.

Preckwinkle later released a statement saying she spoke with Rosello on Tuesday afternoon.

“I expressed my regret over the June 14 incident in the Caldwell Woods Forest Preserves and assured him that what is shown in the video does not represent our values in Cook County. I assured him that disciplinary action regarding the Forest Preserves police officer will be taken upon conclusion of our investigation,” Preckwinkle said in the statement.

READ MORE: After viral video, a refresher course: 5 things to know about Puerto Rico »

Democratic U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez on Tuesday wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for an investigation.

“I understand this incident on a gut level because almost exactly the same thing happened to me when I was a freshman in Congress,” Gutierrez wrote. “I was denied entry into the Capitol complex by U.S. Capitol Police despite being a Congressman with identification, because my daughter was carrying a Puerto Rican flag and the officer doubted that I could possibly be a Member of Congress.”

Gutierrez declined to run for re-election and has said he plans to move to Puerto Rico after his term ends in January.

Preckwinkle said the Forest Preserves intend to use the video in future training exercises.

The man in the video was arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct, according to the Forest Preserves agency, which described the man as intoxicated.

Chicago Tribune’s Madeline Buckley, Matthew Walberg and Paige Fry contributed.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @royalpratt



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