In the aftermath of Paul Heenan’s shooting on Nov. 9, 2012, a group of residents from the Madison community, former and current law enforcement officers, representatives from social service agencies, mental health experts and academics formed a group that called itself the Community Response Team.
We were deeply shaken by the police culture, policy and training that led to the actions taken that night and that continued throughout the year. We worked tirelessly to examine the culture, motives, policies, management, and incentives that led, not only to Paul Heenan’s fatal shooting, but to the damaging and dysfunctional communication from the Madison Police Department to the community after his death.
Two more fatal, officer-involved shootings during the next several months strengthened our drive to identify and address systemic problems within and around the MPD.
Sadly, just over two months into 2015, our community is again grieving the loss of yet another unarmed resident killed at the hands of police. Only this time, state violence has ended the life of young, unarmed Black teenager.
What’s his name?
Tony Terrell Robinson.
Another mother’s child has been taken from her and the pain seems bottomless. We all urgently feel things must change. We must prevent this from happening again.
A bright spot within all of this tragedy is the emergence of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, an energized group of youthful thought-leaders who are amplifying the ideas of people from whom we hear least in our community.
These are the voices of LGBTQ, Black, and Brown residents: those touched personally by the criminal justice system, those who have known homelessness, have known food insecurity, have felt the hand of state violence on their necks. These human rights champions are the voices of some of the most impacted — and among those to whom we look for leadership within our community.
The Community Response Team is offering its resources and strong support for the leadership of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition.
We share their concerns and stand behind them in making their demands. We hope our efforts complement theirs and that together we can move our criminal justice system, our government and our community to higher ground where education, safety, health and prosperity are equitable opportunities for all.
In order to provide this quality of life to all residents, we believe that the MPD must overhaul several policies starting with its policy on how and when to use force. The present standard — individual fear (Graham v. Connor) — cannot be the standard of a professional, democratic police agency. It is far too low.
Until there is actual data to show that officers incur greater injuries or fatalities due to increased restraint, the present standard must be raised and training adjusted accordingly if we are a community committed to the moral idea that Black lives, and indeed all lives, truly matter. Leadership must be proactive and any new system must be carefully monitored in order to be held accountable.
This is what professional police do in a free and democratic society.
This is what our community expects and demands and we will accept nothing less.
We are committed to helping MPD meet this high calling.
Additionally, the following questions and recommendations formulated and delivered to prominent Madison leadership over a year ago remain outstanding and, to our minds, largely unanswered:
• How will the MPD Chief ensure that the community has an influential role in the organization? By what mechanism or agent will the department receive ongoing input from the community to influence current protocol or policies? The MPD is not a person that needs to be protected. It is moral responsibility of the MPD is to serve and protect the community.
• Specifically, how will the MPD Chief learn what the community believes should be the moral criteria for the use of deadly force vs. the minimal bar set by the legal criteria? How will the MPD Chief ensure those moral criteria are being met by the department?
• How will the MPD Chief address the great disparity of arrest rates between our community’s white population and its populations of color, recognizing that it cannot be the natural order of things and that racial profiling leads to corrosive dehumanization and a burdensome overexposure to the criminal justice system in our Black and Brown neighborhoods?
• How will the department enhance its empathy to see people not as a statistical set of characteristics, but instead, as human beings?
• How will MPD improve upon crisis intervention training to ensure that the quality of the bulk of the work that officers do in our community gets the highest priority and attention?
• How will the MPD Chief shape the culture of the MPD to ensure that respect for diversity, both in the workplace and in the community, is a top priority?
• How will the same culture support the possibility that it takes more courage not to pull the trigger than to pull the trigger in the troublesome deadly force issues that took place in 2012 and 2013, and now again, in 2015?
• How will the MPD Chief ensure that MPD officers receive the attention, evaluation and training they need to support them emotionally, as well as physically?
• How will the department flag problem officers and provide them the help they need before they can become factors in deadly force encounters?
• How will the MPD Chief ensure that communication between 911 dispatch and police officers happens with the highest possible fidelity, meaning that communication and training between dispatch and other departments – including attendance at briefings – is prioritized? And how will the MPD Chief ensure that effective analysis of system failure happens when mistakes in communication lead to negative outcomes in the field?
• How will the MPD Chief ensure that the growing influx of military funding, equipment, tactics and former personnel into our department not translate into an increasingly militarized police force?
In the long run, we believe it is these issues that will define our city — more so than fancy hotels, restaurants or farmers markets could ever do. Madison, Wisconsin, could be a national, urban model for promoting human rights — but only if it has the moral fiber to do so.
Sincerely, Community Response Team Members