Roach: Leaders need to reverse ‘Us vs. Them’ in Madison

As use of force and violence take center stage
Roach: Leaders need to reverse ‘Us vs. Them’ in Madison

The summer of ’16 has been busy for Madison Police Chief Michael Koval.

In rapid succession he vented on a blog, became irate at a council meeting, explained the East Towne Mall takedown of 18-year-old black woman Genele Laird at the hands of white Madison officers, and responded to yet another fatal police shooting incident that left 41-year-old white man Michael William Schumacher dead. Schumacher, of Fitchburg, had mental health issues and was armed with a pitchfork when he was shot and killed by a Madison police officer.

That’s a tough month by any measure. To make matters worse, our veteran mayor Paul Soglin wasn’t acting much like a veteran mayor.

Each of these incidents has their own storyline, but there are recurring themes.

First there is the debate over use of force. This is not a local discussion. It’s national. The reason for that growing debate is the proliferation of camera phones and police dash cams. For the first time, citizens are regularly seeing the actual situations police are called to handle, how they respond and how bystanders and suspects act as well.

The footage is tough to watch. There are scenes of police shooting and pummeling citizens. There are videos of criminals shooting and stomping police. There is violence galore.

It is, for lack of a better term, crime porn.

It has created debate and protest among Madison factions that either want to examine use of force versus those who view such discussion as unsupportive of police officers. Race is also an issue, with an inordinate amount of crime and police action happening in poor neighborhoods, as it always has.

Those who have issues with police force can be loud–witness Black Lives Matter. There are plenty of historical and present day reasons for black Americans to be wary of police.

But there is a glaring issue the Black Lives Matter protests ignore. The harsh reality is that a young black man in Madison is far more likely to be killed by another young black man than by a Madison police officer. That’s not an indictment of Black Lives, but it’s a big fat fact that needs as much discussion as police use of force.

We also hear the common phrase, “Race isn’t an issue.” This maddening mantra is even more troubling than the Black Lives blind spot, because there is a high probability that the person making that argument is very, very white.

Adding even more noise is the suggestion that the very act of citizen debate is disrespectful of police officers. Those who take that stand are sure to blare, “Why don’t you be a police officer for a day!” Or, “I stand by the police!”–as if others don’t.

Those who take that stance sound like the bishops of the Catholic Church did for so many decades when questioned about child-abusing priests. “How dare you suggest that our Holy Mother the Church would protect such people?! Our priests are all wonderful and holy men. You don’t know how difficult it is to be a priest. If you make these charges you hate priests and God!!!”

We all know how that worked out.

Those making that argument also jump to the conclusion that the debate over use of force suggests police use no force at all.

Really?

What sane citizen wants an officer to be
defenseless, injured or killed? What sane citizen wants our communities to be without police? On the flip, why wouldn’t police want to continually examine use of force issues? What good officer wants to throw a girl to the ground? What good officer wants to shoot someone to death and live with that moment for the rest of his or her life?

What good officer wants citizens to fear them?

The worst thing about the summer of ’16 is the emergence of a dynamic that Madison hasn’t seen since the ’60s.

The rise of “Us vs. Them.”

That’s a bad thing.

It’s a leadership issue that presents the biggest question of all.

Right now, does Madison have the mayor, police chief, black activists and community leaders who can take us from Us vs. Them … to “We?”

In this summer of ’16 the answer sure looks like “No.”