Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson, who has become known for his presence in the immediate aftermath of incidents of violence in the Madison area, today sharply criticized Mayor Paul Soglin for claiming the city “deployed” a rapid response team in the wake of a shooting Tuesday night, and for mischaracterizing the role of that team, at a Wednesday press conference.
Johnson also blasted what he considers the city’s slow response to escalating gun violence and effectively threatened to disengage from City government and turn solely to the private sector to address the issue.
The 11-member rapid response team has been meeting for about four months as a “small group of people to talk about how we’ll respond to the violence we’re seeing,” Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes told Madison365 in an interview Thursday. Its intent is twofold, she said: to find proactive steps to prevent violence, and to connect victims and community members with services following incidents of violence.
“It’s still really in process. It’s really, really new,” she said. But, she said, “we tested it out Tuesday.”
Reyes said she was attending a Common Council meeting when she received word that someone had been shot on the city’s east side. She alerted the mayor, she said, who agreed that it would be a good idea to contact a member of the rapid response team. She said she called two people; the first didn’t answer, but the second — Focused Interruption Coalition member Anthony Cooper — did, and went to the hospital to assist the victim and his family.
The victim was shot multiple times but had injuries that were not life-threatening.
“It was very informal,” Reyes stressed.
“We started an experiment last night,” Soglin said Wednesday. “We actually instituted it last night for the first time … Because of the urgency last night, we did deploy it.”
Johnson remembers it differently.
“The mayor is lying!” he wrote in a text message to Madison 365.
In an interview Thursday, Johnson clarified. He said both he and Cooper responded to calls alerting them to the shooting and went to the hospital.
“(Soglin) did not dispatch us out there,” Johnson said. “We went out there on our own …The mayor responded as if he dispatched the team. That’s misleading. Anthony was already in route when (Reyes) called him.”
Cooper confirmed that he was aware of the shooting and en route to the hospital when Reyes called.
Either way, Reyes thinks that’s splitting hairs.
“Whether it’s a city response or a community response, there was a response,” she said. “It’s all for the good of the people.”
Johnson even took issue with the characterization of the “team.”
“I’ve been going to these meetings,” he said. “There is no ‘rapid response team.’ There’s no team and there’s no plan. We’re out here telling the public that there’s a master plan.”
He also took issue with the mayor’s characterization of community members responding to incidents of violence as having a role in collecting information.
“Besides the normal law enforcement at the shooting last night, there were some individuals present who were not police officers who had some follow-up conversations and tried to get the trust and obtain more information about the incident,” Soglin said in his press conference. “One of the things that we’re focused on is having individuals who have credibility on the street who are not law enforcement having a, shall we say, post-investigative role in terms of talking to individuals who are witnesses or victims and seeing if they can build trust and confidence and get the necessary information.”
“We’re not no god**n investigators,” Johnson said. “We’re there to build bridges between the community and the police. We’re there to help mitigate issues. We’re there to wrap services around people.”
Reyes agreed with Johnson’s assessment.
Investigation “is not the purpose of the rapid response team,” she said. “That is not our primary role.”
However, she did say that the presence of community responders could help mitigate the problems caused by people unwilling to share information on crimes they witness.
“When you build trust, people will be more willing to share information,” she said.
“Just window dressing”
Johnson said the rapid response team, to the extent that it exists, is “just window dressing.”
He characterized the rapid response team as having “a couple of half-hour meetings here and there” and not truly set up to make a difference.
Cooper noted that the mayor’s office is working to engage the community in work that’s already been going on.
“This is something we’ve already been doing,” Cooper said. “We’ve been doing this the last three or four years. The response team that the mayor’s office is trying to put together is based off the work we’re already doing in the community. If you’re ‘activating’ members of the community, you’re activating the same people in the community that were already doing this, what are you really doing? You’re just putting your brand on what someone else is already doing.”
Johnson pointed to a $400,000 allocation in the City budget intended to begin implementation of the 15-point plan Johnson and others introduced to curb gun violence. Johnson said that money has not yet been used effectively.
“If the mayor wanted it to happen, it would have happened January 1,” he said. “I’ve been around city government long (enough) to know when somebody’s punting the football. Right now there’s not a penny being put on this. They gotta get serious. Until we have boots on the ground, I don’t mind applying the pressure and I don’t mind working with the mayor and his team, but they have to stop playing games.”
Soglin said in his press conference that the funding issue isn’t simple.
“We need three things (from the Common Council),” he said. “One, we need overall adoption of the program. Secondly we need specific authorization of the funding for those kinds of things that need this kind of response. And then thirdly we need to have a formal, contractual financial relationship with the organizations that will employ these individuals.”
He said he intended to move as quickly as possible and hoped to have the more formal rapid response team in place within two months.
Johnson is ready to move on.
“Let’s get to work,” he said. “If we’re serious about saving people’s lives, we’ve got to have boots on the ground.”
He said he’s willing to break from cooperation with the City government and forgo City funds.
“We’re going to find the funds ourselves and do it ourselves,” he said, unless the Mayor is willing to meet and commit to more rapid movement.
“People usually don’t stand up to him,” Johnson said. “I’ve been diplomatic but people’s lives are at stake. We can’t pretend that we’re doing something that we ain’t. It’s uncomfortable. I’m going to make him uncomfortable and he’s going to make me uncomfortable.”
“The stuff that we’re doing is volunteer work,” Cooper said. “We’re walking into serious situations as volunteers. Now it’s time for the mayor and the community to start working together to make sure we get these things done.”
This story has been updated to include comments from Anthony Cooper.