Tension in Madison: Role of Police

Chief Says Madison Not a Ferguson

The above is a recent interview (Apr/3/2015) in which I talk a bit about tension in Madison and that while there is tension in my old city, it is not a Ferguson. The shooting of a young black man by a Madison officer on March 13th initially sparked both grief and anger in the community. As I mention, my hop is that Madison can continue its role as a learning organization and teach others how best to respond to all-to-common incidents like these — and keep them from happening in the future.

The department stayed true to its decades-old “Madison Method” of properly responding to the protest that boiled over after the shooting that night. The department responded with tolerance and control during the many marches and demonstrations which occurred in the city in the aftermath.

Now the city is in an interim period in which an outside agency investigated the shooting; the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

The investigation has been completed and now sits with the district attorney awaiting his finding as to whether or not the officer should be criminally charged (I expect that finding will be one of no charges, but I may be wrong.) The next step is that the investigation will be given to Madison’s chief of police, Mike Koval, to make a determination whether or not the officer followed the department’s policy regarding the use of force.

In the meantime, blacks and whites in Madison tend to have polar opinions on the shooting. For most whites, the officer was only doing his job and responded with deadly force only after having been struck and knocked down by the large youth who, according to some sources, had earlier ingested some psychedelic mushrooms. Blacks, on the other hand, tend to see this as another instance of police using deadly force against unarmed black youths. They see this as a crime and most want to see the district attorney charge the police officer with a crime — even murder. (An account of the shooting can be read in The Guardian.)

Parallel to all this, a “Young, Gifted and Black Coalition” (YGB) has been very active, packing a recent city council meeting and demonstrating their anger not only about the shooting, but about the great disparities in Madison, Dane County, and throughout the United States with regard to race and treatment by police (most notably revealed locally in last year’s stunning report, “Race to Equity”).

Now the city waits. It is a tense time. YGB has now assumed the investigation will clear the officer involved and has called for an investigation by the United Nations into our treatment of African-Americans. While many whites will now totally disregard YGB’s statements, those of us who have walked the long road of race in America will remember this was what Malcolm X was intending to do just before his death 50 years ago. And if you don’t know who Malcolm X was, you need to in order to better understand what’s going on.

Those of you who have been following this blog know that my position has been that when police take the life of an unarmed person the police department needs to not only get closer to the community, but stay close. Even when it is uncomfortable and people say mean things to them.

Then police must openly pledge to revisit their use of force policies, training methods, instrumentality, and even their attitudes about using force in order to be able to authentically and believably respond to this pressing question from the community:

  • What are you doing to assure us this will not happen again?” 

That’s the key question. And because of city liability issues, vacillating political pressures — both internal and external, police leaders remain silent when they should be courageously responding to the key question and assuring the community why this type of shooting should not/will not happen again. Remember, a world-class police department continuously improves all that they do.

  • Police must be more sensitive and responsive to the inevitable public outcry, whether it be from communities of color or from those organizations who represent the mentally ill, when an unarmed person is slain by police.