Mayor Soglin, Common Council react to video of teen’s mall arrest

Community members are outraged after watching the video of 18-year-old Genele Laird’s arrest.

“The feeling I get every day when I see one of ours (African-Americans) treated like a terrorist each and every day a young black woman with a knee in her back called every single name, I can’t take it anymore,” said Tutankhamun Assad, founder of Mellowhood Foundation.

Demonstrators and community leaders are calling looking for answers and want the officers of the Madison Police Department to be held accountable. They also asked for Laird’s immediate release.

“No matter what her behavior was, and I’m not justifying–the police officers are trained officers to deal and de-escalation. And from what I saw, there was no de-escalation happening whatsoever,” said Corinda Rainey-Moore, outreach coordinator with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Family.

Deirdre Adele Thompson, Laird’s sister, told News 3 her family was shocked to hear about the allegations against Laird, but Thompson said she is even more upset with the force the officers used.

“This has made me question all of my loyalty to the police,” Thompson said. “I have no qualms in telling a lot of people, ‘Don’t disrespect police,’ and, ‘Step aside,’ and, ‘Let justice prevail in the end.’ But I can’t even say that for this (Laird’s arrest video). How is that justice?”

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said the arrest highlights a larger concern in the city, “the most important issue for Madison, the matter of race.”

“I find our community divided,” Soglin said. “I can guarantee that my administration will continue to move forward with an open and candid discussion of the underlying issues which range from deep-seated institutional racism in this country, to the behaviors of each of us as individuals.”

Madison police Chief Mike Koval and the Common Council were at odds in early June over a proposal to review the police department, a study that brought a $400,000 price tag. The council approved the study after a tense meeting June 7.

Thompson’s family drove from Illinois Wednesday after seeing the video of Laird’s arrest. Thompson said they are furious and want answers from the police department. That video that went viral had sparked a protest at the Public Safety Building for the second day in a row.

Thompson said despite what her sister is accused of, she doesn’t believe the use of force was appropriate.

“She (Laird) had her hands behind her back,” Thompson said. “That officer came out of nowhere and started practicing his jiujitsu on my sister. I don’t see how she is that strong or that big.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, 11 of Madison’s 20 Common Council members agreed, saying the conduct in the video portrayed “excessive aggression.”

Madison alders Matt Phair, Barbara Harrington-McKinney, Ledell Zellers, Amanda Hall, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Marsha Rummel, Zach Wood, Maurice Cheeks, Sara Eskrich, Denise DeMarb and Rebecca Kemble said in the statement that they saw poor choices from police and Laird in the video, and that the power imbalance between the officers and Laird played a factor in their opinion.

“Events like this do affirm and deepen an existing lack of trust between people of color and the police department,” the statement said.

During a news conference Wednesday, Madison police Chief Mike Koval defended defended the officers involved in an arrest on Madison’s east side Tuesday evening. Koval had said he understands why watching the bystander video may be hard, but it only shows part of what happened, and context is important.

Thompson said her family wants an independent investigation into the use of force policies within the Madison Police Department.

Community and family members gathered again Thursday at the Dane County Courthouse to support Laird, should she have her initial appearance for the charges.

Laird did not appear in court Thursday, but the group planned an emergency community meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. on the second floor at 601 Bayview, across from the Meriter on Park Street.