Alder Tag Evers
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Evers’ Blog
Let's Talk About Violence
Early Wednesday morning, in a case that's just now getting attention, a young black woman named Althea Bernstein was waiting at a traffic light downtown when she was viciously attacked. Her assailants called her the N-word, sprayed lighter fluid on her and lit her on fire. She suffered painful 2nd and 3rd degree burns on her face
Early Sunday morning, Alize Carter was struck by a pick-up truck in a hit-and-run incident at the intersection of Frances and University. She apparently suffered further injury when MPD directed her family to move her injured body and used pepper spray on her friends and family.
This happened in Madison.
Like many of you, I was upset about what happened to the statues, and by the attempted arson at the City-County Building, an act that could have resulted in fatalities. And I'm upset at what happened to State Senator Tim Carpenter, as it was an act of physical violence that must be categorically opposed.
But I am outraged over what happened to these young women.
Stepping back and reviewing what precipitated Tuesday's chaos, the arrest of Devonere Johnson, aka Yeshua Musa, was arguably mishandled. As a local attorney emailed me, it all could have been avoided:
As to the situation at Cooper's Tavern, the police should have just explained to Devonere Johnson that there is no First Amendment in a private restaurant, and told him no more bats and bullhorn use in Cooper's. They shouldn't have even given him a ticket. It was a set up for him to get arrested, and now things are spiraling more out of control. The police need to step back and use better judgment to de-escalate. Yes, he technically broke the law, but it has to be judged in the current context and what the impact of arresting him would be for the safety of the overall community.
This is where violence interruption strategies could have helped. We don't have teams on the street who can de-escalate, who have those soft skills. We don't have tools for this, so we use what we do have, and that's the police, to whom we grant a monopoly on violence.
That these situations so often go south is the reason for the call to defund current police structures in favor of culturally-specific and situationally-relevant means of modifying social behavior.
An article on Vox does an excellent job outlining four ideas for replacing traditional police officers:
1) Create specialized, unarmed traffic patrol officers
2) Deploy unarmed community mediators to handle minor disputes
3) Create a mobile mental health crisis response unit
4) Experiment with community self-policing
In discussing what's happened here recently, we must make the taxonomic distinction that violence against persons, particularly racist violence, is of greater concern than violence against property. After all, statues can be repaired and windows can be replaced.
There is, however, a deeper level of violence that we in Madison must confront. Wisconsin is the worst state in the nation in terms of racial inequality as measured by eight different economic metrics. We are the worst state in the nation with respect to education gaps between white and black kids. And we have the second highest rate of racial disparity in incarceration.
There are consequences for being the worst state in the nation for blacks. There's a price to be paid for Madison being one of the worst cities in the nation for blacks. Structual racism is a form of violence. And violence begets violence. The prophetic warning stands -- "they who have sown the wind, shall reap the whirlwind."
Martin Luther King was right:
In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.
A more contemporary but no less powerful connection was recently made by Kimberly Jones, an activist and author based in Atlanta. In a short video that went viral, Jones gives white people a needed gut punch.
The social compact is broken. The racial income gap is about the same as it was in 1950. And until that changes, nothing really will have changed, we will not have justice and we will not have peace.
As comedian Jon Stewart recently noted in the NY Times:
Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don't have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation. But if we don't address the anguish of a people, the pain of being a people who built this country through forced labor -- people say, ''I'm tired of everything being about race.'' Well, imagine how [expletive] exhausting it is to live that.
We must seize this moment and see it as a movement to finally undo structural racism and dismantle white supremacy. Platitudes will not suffice. It's time to focus on reparations, the case for which was brilliantly laid out a few years back by Ta-Nehesi Coates in the Atlantic magazine.
This will involve tough policy choices, but there are practical applications. Apart from a policy level, what can we as residents of District 13 do that will embody this spirit of reparations?
Neighbors in the district recently reached out to me suggesting one way we can help.
At the Interfaith Solidarity March on June 7, Vanessa McDowell, CEO of YWCA Madison, put out a call to white co-conspirators to transfer wealth to the Black community to increase Black home ownership in Madison. As many of you know, home ownership is one of the major ways of building wealth and not only wealth for oneself, but for the next generation. Here is a link to a video of her speech.
In response, Laurel Ravelo, a white woman in Madison collaborated with Vanessa to launch a GoFundMe campaign. The current goal is $40,000, which is for a 20% down payment on a $200,000 home in South Madison. Here is the link to the campaign that includes additional information and a simple way to donate online. One house is only a start, but we have to start somewhere. Please join me and your fellow neighbors with a donation to reach the goal.
Another way we can make a difference is in supporting Black-owned businesses. The Black Chamber of Commerce publishes a list of such businesses. Again, building wealth is key.
As your alder, I am pushing developers looking to build in District 13 to include affordable housing units whenever and wherever possible. I'm looking into programs that will assist black and brown first-time homebuyers interested in moving into one of our neighborhoods. I continue to monitor the progress of Bayview's redevelopment project. And I'm continuing to birddog the Truman Olson project so that there will be uninterrupted full-service grocery access for South Madison.
These are exceedingly challenging times. We are called to do the hard work, to have the hard conversations, to dig deep for lasting change. I'm encouraged by how so many of you are responding. We can and must move FORWARD.
In the words of the prophet Amos,"Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to me at 608.424.2580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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