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“A modern-day lynching.” Virtual town hall convenes Black leaders, police to address killing of George Floyd

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Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson opened a Virtual Town Hall to discuss the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis moderated by Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders on Facebook Live yesterday.

“The murder of George Floyd was a modern-day lynching and the kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck was a suppression technique that is unacceptable in police departments across the United States of America,” Johnson said.

UW Police Chief Kristen Roman, Madison Interim Police Chief Vic Wahl, Sun Prairie Police Chief Mike Steffes, Middleton Police Chief Troy Hellenbrand, Fitchburg Police Chief Chad Brecklin, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, Nehemiah Center Re-entry Services Director Anthony Cooper, and Mount Zion Baptist Church Pastor Marcus Allen joined Johnson and Sanders for the Town Hall. Johnson called on all police chiefs in Dane County to condemn the killing and speak out against police brutality on Tuesday. 

“As a Black man, this is our norm. We have to be able to figure out new ways of how we navigate to be able to live life whatever you want to call normal,” Cooper said in the town hall.

Johnson called the interaction a clear abuse of authority which shows a lack of respect for life, traumatizing many in the Black community. Cooper suggested police departments conduct psychiatric evaluations of police officers on a regular basis. 

The killing of Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday follows a string of high profile incidents in recent months. The FBI is investigating the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. The US Department of Justice is considering possible hate crime charges in Georgia over the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a case police are accused of mishandling. 

“Our community is mentally drained. We are tired and what we witnessed is sickening, unbearable, and heartbreaking. These acts of violence against African American men and women at the hands of law enforcement officers have to simply stop,” Johnson said. “These issues have been going on in our country for hundreds and hundreds of year but today we have video cameras that allow every American to witness the injustice that Black people witness every day.”

Both Cooper and Allen shared their frustrations over these incidents amid the coronavirus pandemic. Allen said this incident feels especially upsetting after dog owner Amy Cooper called the police on Black bird-watcher Christian Cooper when he asked her to keep her dog on a leash. 

“I never knew George. I never knew that man. I never knew Amaud. I never knew Tamir Rice. I never knew Eric Garner. I never knew Philando Castile but I have seen these men die on camera. We’ve seen dead bodies on the street of those required to protect and serve,” Allen said. 

UW Police Chief Roman said the Law Enforcement and Leaders of Color Collaboration have done great work to address trust gaps in Dane County in the aftermath of the 2014 Ferguson Unrest. She also said incidents like these undermine public trust and faith in law enforcement officers that their colleagues will uphold their duty. She read a statement from the Dane County Chiefs of Police Association, of which she is president, calling the actions of the Minneapolis officers “reprehensible and inexcusable.”

Madison Acting Police Chief Wahl spoke about focusing on equity and using restorative justice approaches with youth.

“We have been very deliberate with MPD about taking affirmative steps to try to reduce disparities. We’re trying to reduce disparities in the criminal justice system and how our officers interact folks,” Wahl said.