District 3 Blog
a better Madison
Now that we are close to a week out from reopening a significant wound in Madison, I want to review with you what I've seen, heard, and experienced this week and in the time leading up to it.
First, I'd like to share with you what I know about the two officers who are most mainly involved in the video of the arrest at East Towne Mall last week. I know these guys. The first officer on the video, the one who began the arrest, is the officer with whom I did my east district ride along last August. We talked for hours and discussed Madison's growing heroin problem, domestic violence issues, and long distance running. He was open and forthright and answered at least 100 questions from me.
During the ride along the officer responded to several calls; two of them included the second officer you see in the video. The first call to include that second officer was mental health-related. I watched the second officer from the video handle a tense and fraught situation with astounding compassion and empathy, de-escalating the situation and helping create a sense of peace not only for the individual experiencing a mental health crisis but also that person's family. I was floored by his work and I remember thinking, 'I wish we could clone this guy.'
The second call involving the second officer in this video was a confusing (non-violent) situation which had many of the officers who responded to the call pretty puzzled. I saw the officer in question teasing at each detail and turning it over and over, even getting permission from a superior to re-comb the secured area and look for additional details. I was really impressed by his dedication to the investigation of a less than major case.
Two weeks ago Tuesday, exactly one week before the arrest in the video, an MPD captain and I were chatting after a public safety review committee meeting and the second officer's name came up. The captain mentioned that the officer was really concerned with arrest rates as between races, and was diving into the statistics in his spare time. Once again, I was impressed with his dedication and apparent desire to make MPD fair and transparent.
So those are the guys I know, two east district officers who seem like the exact model for a 21st century police officer and who, when I was told that MPD officers were 'racist' or 'misogynist' I held in my mind as examples of the complete opposite.
Then, I saw the disturbing video of the two of them taking down a petite young woman.
I just could not match up the two realities in my mind; one of good people and exemplary officers, and one of two people in a position of authority utilizing sickening force on young person.
Now, I can feel everyone reading this wanting interject 'yeah, but' into what I wrote above so I'm going to ask you to take a second and remember: everyone who sees that video is going to experience it differently. Some will feel racial implications, some will feel gender implications, some will simply see a forcible arrest. As for me, all other valid issues aside, and call me a Libertarian, but I am just never going to be okay with government officials beating on a citizen like that. At any rate, each person's perspective is valid as anyone's else. We NEED to be open to the viewpoints of our neighbors if we are going to heal and go forward. I have gotten way too many emails from folks in the last several days which dismiss the perspectives of others' in whose shoes none of us have walked. That doesn't get us anywhere. I know we can be more open-hearted and open-minded than we have been in the immediate aftermath of this incident.
Let me put it plainly: I've received some really messed up and yes, racist, emails these past weeks. Attitudes like that are never going to be okay and they get us nowhere.
So, in addition to the experiences above, let's re-steer back toward what else I've been able to find out as we handle this issue as a city, and as a microcosm of a nation facing the same issues.
I met last week with our east district lieutenant, spoke with our captain, and had coffee and perspective-sharing with a west district officer who lives here in District 3. I read with interest and empathy statements of pain and anger from groups within our community and realized anew how much I just don't understand having not walked the same path as many in our community. Finally, last week Friday I did a ride along in the south district. While things seemed pretty calm in the south district on Friday, what I heard from the east and west is that there is a pretty deep wound in this city. There are a lot of police officers who want to do a good job and there are a lot of people who in no way trust that.
I can hardly imagine what it's like to feel unsafe, rather than safe, in police presence but I bet it's a lonely and awful feeling. I can hardly imagine what it's like to work a life-risking job day after day for a community some of whose members hate your very presence, but I imagine that's pretty lonely and awful too.
It seems, then, that everyone is hurting. We can compare who is hurting worse, or we can reach out for the humanity in one another and find ways to heal.
Much too often in the past weeks I've received emails from right here in District 3 which create a dichotomy that either our police officers are terribly trained people of questionable personal character, or they are saints whose actions can never ever be questioned. That either-or just isn't going to work for us. What I saw last week was video of two officers I believe to be good people do something I cannot possibly support or agree with. I've walked through the whys and hows of the incident with other officers, unofficially of course as the reviews won't be complete for some time, and I feel I have a better understanding of why decisions were made how they were, and how what we saw in the video was probably in line with MPD standards. That's fair enough. I still have a problem with that amount and kind of force. Sometimes support means asking for better.
I believe our community could have done better by everyone in that video. Two officers trying to keep everyone in a crowded public space safe who followed their training, one of whom was injured in the process and both of whom are now having their privacy violated and their character publicly questioned, and a young woman from whom something valuable had been stolen, who took some desperate actions, who reached out for help, and was taken to the ground by people our community tells her to trust.
As we go forward, let's exemplify the Madison we know we can be. Let's dig deep and listen to one another's perspectives, being open to the possibility that those perspectives will tell us things we don't want to hear about our city. Let's let ourselves acknowledge the pain of the divisions in our community. And as we work through this, let us learn and grow and be better for something we wish had never happened.
Yours for a better Madison,
Alder, District 3
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