African Americans stress more needs to be done.
The Dane County sheriff and five police chiefs from cities within the county took what was described as an “unprecedented” action Thursday by condemning the actions of four Minneapolis police officers who killed an unarmed African American man on Monday.
Throughout Thursday, law enforcement officials from across the state began making public statements condemning the what was repeatedly described as an unlawful use of force by a Minneapolis police officer.
Interim Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl said he felt disbelief, dismayed, anger, and sorrow for the loss of life when he first saw the video of the police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for over eight minutes on Monday.
“Public trust with law enforcement is very fragile,” said Wahl Thursday. “Nothing can shatter it like the misuse of force by police. For all the baby steps we have taken forward, something like this is one leap backwards.”
The Minneapolis Police Department this week fired the four officers involved in Floyd’s death. The cause of Floyd’s death hasn’t been released, and the incident is being investigated by local, state and federal authorities.
Floyd, 46, was arrested Monday evening after officers were called to investigate alleged forgery at Cup Foods, a grocery store. The store owner reported a man had tried using a fake $20 bill, according to CNN.
Wahl joined Dane County Police Chief Dave Mahoney, Sun Prairie Police Chief Mike Steffes, UW Police Chief Kristen Roman, Middleton Police Chief Troy Hellenbrand and Fitchburg Police Chief Chad Brecklin in the forum at the request of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County chief executive officer Michael Johnson.
Johnson called on the law enforcement officers Wednesday to condemn the killing and speak out against police brutality. One day later, Madison365 hosted the event, streaming it live on Facebook. The conversation was moderated by Henry Sanders Jr., the publisher of Madison365.
Anthony Cooper, the re-entry service director for the Nehemiah Center, and Pastor Marcus Allen of Mount Zion Baptist Church, were also part of the discussion.
Mahoney said his department has been focused on building trust with the county’s African American community ever since Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
“These incidents continue to occur across the country,” Mahoney said. “Every incident like what we saw in Minneapolis chips away at the community trust with law enforcement across Dane County.”
He said what he saw when watching the video tape was police officers not following the use of force policy.
“Deputies are expected to intervene and report any misuse of force or authority by another deputy,” Mahoney said.
Sanders said the fact the law enforcement officers were willing to criticize fellow officers is a step forward, “compared to the response after Tony Robinson was killed.”
On March 6 2015, Robinson,19, was shot and killed by a Madison police officer. It was later determined the officer was acting within his rights, but the shooting led to changes throughout the department.
“Just for them to acknowledge there is institutional racism, just to hear them acknowledge that what happened to Mr. Floyd was wrong … it’s not enough,” Sander said. “But it is unprecedented.”
Marcus told the group he is so upset he initially did not want to take part in the conversation. He said hearing Floyd calling for his mother, only to later learn Floyd’s mother is no longer alive, has caused anger to build up inside him.
“It just causes tears to continue to come from my face,” Marcus said. “Even waking up this morning … tears, just crying.”
He said the common theme with all the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police officers is the color of their skin and the fact they are unarmed.
“They didn’t have any weapons. They didn’t commit murder,” Marcus said. “They didn’t commit vicious crimes.”
African Americans make up 6 percent of Dane County’s population. Yet 48 percent of the arrests made by Madison police are African Americans, Marcus said.
It is the constant fear that this will happen to them that prompted Marcus, Cooper and Sanders to question the panel of law enforcement officers on what citizens could and should do if they witness an incident occurring like what happened in Minneapolis.
“That’s a really hard question and one that there is no right answer to,” said UW Police Chief Roman. “I think that is a call made by every individual by weighing what risks are at stake. Be a good witness, do the filming, report and say something if you can.”
Roman described the incident in Minneapolis as “extreme,” adding if citizens decided to “push past” the officers, they too could be physically harmed or killed.
“We can absolutely point to the risk that they could have been harmed or killed as a result of stepping in,” Roman said.
She said everyone needs to weigh the risk of intervening for themselves and then decide what they would do.
Given that answer, Sanders said people can understand why black people are feeling vulnerable.
“We are watching a man get killed for over seven minutes, with people witnessing it,” Sanders said. “There are other officers there that are supposed to protect us, who are keeping us away as we are seeing a man murdered. And now you are telling us we really can’t do anything to stop it.”
Jacquelyn Hunter, a Dane County resident, said her 25-year-old son is struggling to make sense of the world.
“He is heartbroken. He is anxious. He is sad. He is angry,” Hunter said. “As a black mother, watching what is unfolding before my very eyes, even in Dane County, is heart wrenching.”
She said when she hears Floyd’s last words, calling for his mother, she fears the same for her own sons and daughters.
“I worry so much that at any moment, someone unjustifiably could determine that they’re not worth anything and take them out,” she said. “My God, my God. What kind of world are we living in?”
Johnson described the African American community as mentally drained. He said the acts of violence against black men and women at the hands of police officers have to stop.
“For many of you who are outraged but choose to stay home and clear of these issues, I would implore you to think differently and to step out of your comfort zone,” Johnson said. “I realize there are a lot of good people in this world. But the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and good women is to sit at home and quietly do nothing.”
Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven posted a lengthy statement on Facebook.
He said “to achieve excellence,” people must be willing to have difficult conversations that involve listening and learning from others.
“Whenever possible, I’ll also be at local events coordinated in response to the death of George Floyd. I will be there to listen, learn, and build partnership,” Bliven said.
According to The Chippewa Herald, Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said the fact the four officers were immediately fired shows that placing a knee across the neck is a violation of the Minneapolis Police Department’s policy.
“Our officers are taught the correct protocol,” Kowalczyk said. “A knee in the back or neck, it’s a split-second decision. Here, it was the wrong decision.”
Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer also told The Chippewa Herald that “placing a knee across the neck of someone being detained” is not something that is taught in recruit school.
“We’re cautious on how we teach how to handle a combative subject,” Cramer said. “If an officer sees something go awry, they need to step in.”