Social media outrage made its way to Highland Park City Hall late last week.
City officials released a statement on Thursday evening to explain its removal of posters featuring hostages held in Gaza. In the statement, the city cited a local statute that disallows private signs on public property.
“It is important that the City apply the policy equitably to all displays on public property, regardless of content,” the statement reads.
Highland Park comprises a longstanding and substantial Jewish community. Demographic organizations have reported that between one-third and one-half of the city’s residents are Jewish. Highland Park has a sister city in Israel (Yerucham).
On Oct. 7, after Hamas militants attacked the people of Israel, killing 1,400 and capturing at least 240, the City of Highland Park — like many suburban communities — issued a statement in support of the people of Israel and on Oct. 12 the city reported an increase to security measures around the community.
Displaying posters of the hostages held in Gaza has become a supportive act nationwide. It has also become a flashpoint.The posters are regularly removed, whether by protesters, public officials or others.
In Highland Park, a city employee was tasked with removing hostage posters affixed to a downtown Highland Park lightpost. A photo of the employee removing the items was posted to social media with a caption shaming the then-unknown individual. The post drew plenty of incendiary commentary, including references to the Holocaust and Nazi, Germany, before and after it was revealed the person was a city employee.
The tense online discussion led to the City’s public explanation of the City ordinance, which only allows the private posters to be placed in one public location (the southwest corner of St. Johns and Central Avenue) once a permit is issued.
Many commenters on the social media post believe that the City should have considered making an exception before removing the posters. The City, in its release, requested community members remain respectful and send their concerns to the City Managers Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City release concludes: “The City affirms our commitment to standing shoulder to shoulder with the affected individuals and the broader Jewish community. In the face of adversity, our City remains a stronghold of support, emphasizing the values of empathy, understanding and shared humanity.”
A similar discussion unfolded in Glencoe in October. After Village of Glencoe employees removed hostage posters in their downtown, residents brought concerns to the Oct. 12 Village Board meeting and urged officials to make an exception.
Like Highland Park, officials explained that they cannot pick and choose which private messages to allow in public spaces.
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