What’s Happening in Madison?

madison-protestFrom this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal:

“Students from throughout Madison left school and took their rage, sorrow and demands to the city’s power centers on Monday, rocking the state Capitol rotunda with chants of ‘Justice for Tony’ then demanding a meeting with Mayor Paul Soglin and Police Chief Mike Koval while massed outside the City-County Building.

“In loud, well-choreographed voices, they vowed to press public officials and police for consequences in the death last Friday night of Tony Robinson, an unarmed 19-year-old shot by a police officer after an altercation on the Near East Side.

“’We demand that the officer who shot our brother be arrested,’ the group of 1,500 young people chanted in call-and-response outside the City-County Building. The group included students of all races, although most were black. They came from Sun Prairie High School — where Robinson graduated last spring — plus all four traditional Madison high schools, and they included middle school and college students.

“On Monday evening, about 100 people from teens to the elderly crowded into a small room for a previously scheduled meeting of the city’s Police and Fire Commission to voice sadness, concern and outrage — as well as constructive suggestions on policing and support of the black community.

“The roving protests — perhaps the largest in the Capitol rotunda since the Act 10 rallies of 2011 — highlighted the third full day of angry reactions after Robinson was shot by Madison veteran police officer Matt Kenny. Police say Robinson, of Madison, assaulted Kenny, 45, inside a second-floor apartment at 1125 Williamson St. before Kenny fatally shot Robinson. Kenny suffered minor injuries, police said…”

[[Read more HERE:

If the kind of reaction by people of color can happen in Madison it can happen anywhere. Few will doubt that over the last 40 years Madison has developed an educated, well-trained, connected and respected police department. Yet today, the anger among people of color in Madison is clearly visible and racism and unconscious bias is a part of this city as it is across America.

When I left active policing twenty years ago the department was in good hands — and still is. Back in those days we developed a unique and effective leadership style called “Quality Leadership” and part of that style was for leaders to listen inside the organization as well as within the community; to work together to solve problems, to be creative and even experimental in what we do. We saw ourselves as both a learning and teaching organization. We were committed to the idea that what we were learning about improving the police function needed to be shared. That was and still is policing a la Madison.

I was pleased this month when President Obama’s task force on policing released its report (and prior to that, asked many of us across the nation to give them feedback on it as I did). Obama’s foresight (and I had earlier urged him as a candidate not to overlook the need to improve our nation’s police) led to the work of the task force on policing which addressed most of the areas that I thought needed fixing:

  • higher education for police
  • improved training methods
  • the handling of protest
  • creeping militarization and a warrior rather than that of a guardian
  • alternatives to arrest, and, most importantly
  • re-thinking how force is being used by police in America; especially deadly force

There are two other important areas that still need to be addressed and brought up to world standards in business and industry:

  • developing competent,
  • creative and highly-resourceful leaders annd
  • encouraging innovation, research and experimentation within the police.

I identified four obstacles in my book, “Arrested Development,” that must be overcome if we are to do this. They are anti-intellectualism, violence, corruption, and discourtesy.

When they are overcome, police in our nation will be smarter, better controlled in their use of force, more honest, and respectful to everyone regardless of their station in life. I would also hope that police leaders will become more creative, more willing to think outside the box, and more willing to try new and better ways to help citizens build safer neighborhoods.

I use the word “neighborhood” instead of “community” because I see that the term community policing has been hijacked — misused, misinterpreted, and even fraudulent in its use. Every police chief talks about community policing, but few do it. So, I use and have used the term “neighborhood policing,” because that is the level of police service delivery that is most effective and actually works. I want to talk about neighborhoods not community which has often meant city.
Madison does neighborhood policing!

Painfully watching the past week unfold in my beloved Madison has been deeply troubling, even agonizing. But I am coming to see that good will come out of it.

Madison and their police are learning together the difficulty of maintaining trust in a multi-cultural and racial city and how best to use force in policing. It isn’t perfect here, but we can learn more and learn it better. And from our learning how to talk and listen to one another about the pain and disappointment we are feeling, then working together to improve systems which have failed us, gradually healing this tragedy, and then sharing our experience and our learning with cities throughout America is a goal that is worthy of us and will lead to a better tomorrow.

Madison’s police chief, Mike Koval put out a commendable blog in which he underscored the pain the department is feeling. He quoted Sir Robert Peel’s century-and-one-half year old statement about democratic policing, “the police are the people and the people are the police.” That’s good and important. I would add another of Peel’s nine principles — the amount of public cooperation with police is inversely related to the amount of force they have to use in carrying out their duties. Simply stated, more force, less citizen cooperation.

The use of deadly force is a key issue here. Unless our nation’s police move to reduce its use, and especially its frequent use in controlling people of color, we will continue to breed anger and mistrust across the land. This must stop now.