Mt. Prospect Faces Old Racial Problem despite Its Diversity, Segregation Is Still the Rule

By Mask, Teresa | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 29, 2000 | Go to article overview

Mt. Prospect Faces Old Racial Problem despite Its Diversity, Segregation Is Still the Rule


Mask, Teresa, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Mount Prospect, by most accounts, is an economically and racially mixed community.

With black, white, Asian and Hispanic residents, some would say the village is a prime example of diversity in the suburbs.

But while ethnic minorities and whites co-exist in Mount Prospect, they remain two distinctly different and separate communities.

Experts say many suburban communities are integrated but that residents of different racial and ethnic groups still may not socialize on a regular basis or live in the same neighborhoods.

Social integration "is not something that just happens because people live next to each other," said Grayslake resident Aurie Pennick, who is president and CEO of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities. "We were naive to believe that, but now we know it's not true."

Kristen Myers, an associate professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, agrees.

"Most communities are still highly racially segregated, even when they are integrated," she said.

The lack of social integration, Myers said, may explain why many whites and Hispanics in Mount Prospect were not aware of allegations of targeting Hispanics.

Last week, a federal jury awarded $1.2 million to former police officer Javier Martinez, who sued the village over racial discrimination.

On Thursday, the judge who heard the case told Mount Prospect officials they have a serious problem that is not going away. Judge Ruben Castillo has asked for a federal investigation of police practices, stemming from the suit.

Still, many in town appear shocked at the dispute. They say it's ironic that Mount Prospect, whose village motto is "where friendliness is a way of life," would be entangled in such a bitter four-year battle with Martinez.

"We don't hear complaints about police unfairness," said the Rev. Kirk Reed, of Trinity United Methodist Church in Mount Prospect, whose congregation is racially diverse. "Until this thing hit the federal court, no one really knew it was a problem."

About 12 percent or 6,700 residents in Mount Prospect are of Hispanic ancestry, according to 1999 research from Claritis Inc.

"We're changing like everyone else," said Assistant Village Manger David Strahl. "The region is evolving and we're not immune..."

The Hispanic community, especially, is growing throughout the suburbs. In Elgin, for example, Hispanics constitute about 25 percent of the population. Addison has about 13 percent Hispanic. And in Mundelein 18 percent of the population is Hispanic.

Myers said there may be a hesitancy on the part of Hispanics in Mount Prospect to speak out about any racial profiling.

"They want to give the benefit of the doubt and believe the rhetoric that people are now living in a colorblind society," she said.

While residents are surprised by allegations of minority targeting, Myers said it's happening across the country, primarily because police are looking at data released by sociologists like herself.

To be effective, she said, police need to make predictions. They make assumptions based on the data, generalizing, instead of realizing it's not a 1-to-1 ratio.

Police generally are simply trying to do the best jobs they can, and most are not deliberately being racist, she said.

Like other suburbs, Mount Prospect has changed dramatically in recent years.

In the late 1970s, subsidized housing brought Hispanics and other minorities to what had been a virtually all-white middle- class community with single-family houses and manicured lawns. …

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