The COVID-19 pandemic and high-profile deaths at the hands of police in 2020 have brought to the forefront the overdue need to respond to racial inequality. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequity, but even in the best of times we have failed to be a community in which everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.
As Alder, I have heard from people in our District who think that reduced funding for the police is the worst thing we could do right now. I’ve heard from people who are concerned about crime, have been victims of break-ins and car theft, and who fear that reducing police responsibilities makes us all less safe.
I have also heard from people who have never felt protected by police presence, who fear that their sons, brothers, and husbands may not make it home because of targeting, misidentification, and a city that has struggled to truly embody the progressive values that it prides itself on.
As a white man, I myself have never felt targeted or unsafe with regard to the police. I have never been followed or stopped for anything but minor traffic violations. But that doesn’t mean that my experience tells the whole story. As neighbors, we have to listen to each other and work to build a community in which we all feel safe, healthy, and able to contribute.
The most important thing I want to say on this topic is this: this is not a situation with a binary solution that can be simplified into the choice of abolishing the police department or ramping up a tough-on-crime approach. I believe that we have a strong police department, which is working to improve. And I believe that without significant restructuring of how the city meets the needs of its residents, people of color will continue to suffer more than others, and that is unacceptable.
The good news is that the things we need to do to address inequality are things that make the entire city a safer, healthier place to live (which also improves our economy). Some of those changes include:
- Improving mental health services to reduce the number of situations that become crises
- Utilizing professionals trained in evidence-based crisis response
- Increasing the amount of affordable housing
- Improving public transit that makes it possible for people to get and keep jobs
- Investing in organizations who strengthen community bonds
- Address retention issues within the Madison Police Department which currently results in costly turnover and lowers morale
Making this city healthier and safer for all of us will require a shift in how we invest our resources. That is not an easy thing to do and I can’t say that I have all the answers as to how we get it done. What I can do is promise that I will do the following with every opportunity that comes before me:
- Listen to the voices of those most impacted
- Ask the question of who benefits from the changes and who benefits from the status quo
- Consider the impacts of proposed change, particularly the possible unintended consequences
- Make decisions that move us toward greater equity
I want change that lasts, and I’m committed to doing my part in the fight to make this city one where everyone can thrive.
Achievements & Actions:
- Supported the work of the Madison Police Department Policy & Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee, including sponsoring the adoption of their primary recommendations for a police civilian oversight board and independent monitor
- Strong support of the Commercial Ownership Assistance Program and Small Business Equity and Recovery Program (SBER) which will help support diverse business and property ownership
- Successfully sponsored legislation that studies the Madison Police Department’s use of tear gas and prohibits the department from obtaining weapons of war from the Department of Defense
- Early and strong proponent of implementing a Crisis Response Team
- Aggressively supported new affordable housing funding and projects in District 19 and the City of Madison
- Supported efforts to decriminalize possession and use of small amounts of cannabis