Protestors in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison holding a large banner reading "Black Lives Matter"

09/04/20 Blog: Success in the Capital City but Not On a State Level

September 4, 2020

A lot has happened in Wisconsin politics this past week. We made history, locally, and repeated history on a state level within 72 hours. I’m finding it hard to celebrate one without acknowledging the other.

On a local level, we were able to make a small step towards community control of police. For the past five years, community leaders in Madison have been applying pressure on the City Council to create a board to oversee the actions of the Madison Police Department.

Under the proposals, the Office of the Independent Monitor and Civilian Oversight Board (COB) will be able to subpoena the police department, prepare an annual report on the police chief, make recommendations for policy changes, and conduct community outreach. They will also have the power and resources to investigate all complaints and occurrences that have been concerning to Black community members.This investigation will be independent of the Madison Police Department and Department of Justice.

The committee, along with the support of the monitor, will be able to hire outside experts for their own investigations. Being able to hire our own investigator allows us to find someone that is not tied to the police department or is looking for political gain.

I see this asa step in the right direction; not because of the Board itself, but because of the requirements of the people that will make up COB.

To ensure the Board is diverse, a process for selecting the members was approved at the meeting as well. Half of the COB members must be Black and there must be members from marginalized communities that have experience with mental health, youth advocacy, and substance abuse. At least one member is required to have an arrest or conviction record. Potential Board members must not have any immediate family members that work for the Madison Police Department. These guidelines are important to create a Board with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds.

Each of the nine community groups will submit three names and the Mayor, along with the City Council, will choose from the pool of nominees. The nomination process will start this month. This is how you create a Board that can implement change.

Knowing how white supremacy works, the Board would have been made up of career politicians and safe people of color that fit their agenda. Creating these guidelines will make sure there are people on this Board that are commonly ignored by their alderperson, and that they will have a voice and be heard.

Even though this is a win in my eyes, there are still restrictions on how much power the COB will have. They will not be able to fire or hire officers, but they will be informed on investigations of officers. This can be disheartening to some. I believe it was anticipated knowing how many years it took to get this far. Our community leaders that have their boots on the ground are playing chess, and I have faith in them having a counter to this move for the long run.

While we are playing chess on the local level, the state isn’t even allowing us to sit down before they cancel the game. Governor Evers called a special legislative session on gun violence and Republicans did the same thing they did back in November - they gavelled out. The Republicans did that on Monday and again on Thursday. Black leaders across Wisconsin predicted this outcome. In response to their lack of response, the Invest In Us campaign, led by the Community Justice Action fund, held a press conference on the Capitol steps Monday morning which led to a protest that evening. Even though we knew they would not take it seriously, we were there. We were also demanding more funds go into our communities; more than the $1 million worth of funds proposed for community organizations with violence-prevention programs which was included in the package of nine bills that were barely looked at. We demand our voices be heard and our communities have a say in what goes on in them.

Wisconsin has been way too comfortable straddling the fence of being environmentally liberal and racially oppressive. The nationwide uprising has added pressure to the efforts of grassroots organizations and we have to be aware of performative politics. Calling sessions we know won’t be taken seriously does not get a gold star anymore. To prove you are on the right side of history, you have to do everything in your power to support the work we are doing. That goes for every person holding a political seat in this state. In a time when Black Lives Matter turns into a marketing tool instead of showing solidarity, we have to read into everything. We have to notice when policy makers are only throwing us a bone to keep us quiet. Don’t accept it. White supremacy banks on us thinking in the box they created. We are beyond that. The very visions they say are impossible are very real. Don't be deterred and continue to fight. Our ancestors spent years learning the rules to the game, it is in us. All we have to do is walk in that purpose and we will create exactly what they dreamed.

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