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Genele Laird with her mom

Say her name — Genele Laird.
Say it.
Know it.
Don’t forget it.

Genele, know this: Know through whatever you’re feeling right now, do not feel ashamed, embarrassed, or like you did something wrong to deserve what happened to you. You did not. It will be difficult, but do not listen to people who tell you that you deserve what happened to you, that second guess and tell you what you should have done differently. Do not listen to those that do not see or respect your humanity.

Know your humanity, love it, and love yourself. Whatever feelings of trauma, anxiety, depression, or whatever you feel after are OK. Just know that you did not deserve this and those that don’t see your humanity and tell you that you do, are not voices that should be given the light of day.

Just know that your reaction to having all your power taken away from you is normal, most people would resist such a physical response. This is called “fight or flight,” and you fought back against racist officers that showed no regard for a black women’s humanity. You are right to not comply to your own oppression as we know we cannot trust the system to treat you with true justice.

This will be a long journey for you, but know that we got your back, Genele. You are not alone in this fight.

Chief Koval, say her name, and keep yours and your police’s hands off our black women. Keep your “model” police department away. You must apologize and give more than a “we’ll look into it” response to the family. There is no justification for this behavior from your officers, and there is no justification for the framing of what happened by your department. It is despicable, and deplorable; what about all the accountability you claim you are for?

Your officers clearly escalated a situation, was it to “gain control” of the situation as their training taught them to? This is clearly unacceptable for police to be trained in such a way.

But what are we to expect? How can we expect better from your officers after you berated, bullied, and broke your own police code of conduct when you addressed the Common Council over the RFP for $400,000. You claim that was about the cost of it, yet your department costs the city $65 million a year, with stellar (sarcasm) results. As we see through our 11-1 racial disparities, through the ACLU investigation, through the higher rate of police involved killings than NYC, through the brutalization and dehumanization of a young black girl — who couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds — by four grown men.

You demonstrate the behavior of a bully and use racially coded language, no wonder they dehumanize black women and treat them as less than. This was clearly a dehumanizing, sick, and disgusting use of force. At no point did your officers attempt to de-escalate the situation.

You didn’t care about the city’s budget as you pushed for the midtown precinct that was overwhelmingly supported by the Common Council. You don’t care how this city has about 40 more officers than other comparable cities, spending much more money annually to support them. Let’s be real, this wasn’t and isn’t about the budget. You feel that you and your police department are above transparency, are above criticism, and are above accountability. That’s what this is for. It is normal for all city departments to go through an audit, why so stuck on this one? Drop the “cost” charade; this is you not wanting a truly independent look at your police department.

And drop the ‘model police department,’ please. There are problems with departments all across the nation. You may have the best pile of crap in the nation, but guess what, it’s still a pile of crap. Here’s the thing: The way police departments as an institution are currently structured, they are a racist institution. The first police were slave catchers in this nation; they were first professionalized in urban areas as a form of social control of their black populations. The drug war was launched as a form of control of America’s black populations, and law and order rhetoric, that you ape, was used by Nixon to start the militarization of police forces.

This is more than just a “few bad apples.” But let’s finish the saying: a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch.

We must have community control over the police, as they have shown themselves over and over again to not serve Madison’s black community in the ways we want, but in the ways a few white power holders want. Getting rid of a combative chief is the first step, but we have a long ways to go.

And to the Common Council members who supported the RFP and are pushing back against a police chief who feels that a city should not have oversight over him, who feels that any questions of his police department are an act worth threatening an elected body over: Many in this community stand with you. I stand with you. We’ve got the back of anybody brave enough join in the call for Koval’s resignation, anybody brave enough to file a formal complaint with the Police and Fire Commission to fire a Chief that uses racially coded language, and anybody who feels like he is a bully and does not hold his officers or himself accountable for their own actions.

Any community members that have been mistreated by MPD, file a formal complaint to the Police and Fire Commission, do not let your humanity or power be taken away from you anymore. It’s time that this community — our black community — holds power over the Madison Police Department.

Oh, and before I forget, I do agree with you, Chief Koval, that police don’t address poverty, our city’s housing crisis, or food access, and many other social issues. But if the police don’t address those issues, and they are directly related to crime rates, and we have a larger police force than other comparable cities, why don’t we downsize? We can use those saved millions as a direct investment in our black communities here. It seems to me that would be a much better use of money, since it seems you’re suddenly so concerned about how best to use the city’s money.

But most importantly to everyone: Say Her Name — Genele Laird! Say his name — Tony Robinson! Cry for freedom as we will not let our humanity be taken away from us. We love all of y’all in all of your blackness!

Written by Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn is a Madison native and civil rights activist.

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