Batons or tear gas. This state violence or that state violence. We are led to believe that these are our choices and there is no alternative.
Let’s be clear, everything that is happening is a choice.
We don’t just “happen” to find ourselves in this situation where pepper spray is presented as a “humane alternative” to “hands-on” crowd control and the underlying reality of young Black teens being met by the National Guard and a militarized police force is left unquestioned.
We – as a city, a community – are actively choosing our responses. And within these actions (and inactions) we are showing our values. Thus far, we have chosen a continuation of state violence against Black young people. This shouldn’t be surprising as this is what we have always chosen, but somehow we lose the fact that we are complicit in choosing this – it is not a natural, unavoidable state, it is our choice.
And it is a choice with immense consequences to Black young people entering a summer with vastly limited opportunities, whose families have endured centuries of white supremacy and whose experience of Madison as a racist city that does not meaningfully invest in them and views them as a threat to the way of life here – has been confirmed.
As our country and our city reels in the pain of yet another Black person murdered at the hands of the police, we could choose something different, though.
We could choose to send the National Guard home and tell the police to go home, too. A choice that feels so “unnatural” because it is a decision to risk potential property damage instead of risking young Black lives – so unnatural because it topples the racist hierarchy that our country was literally founded upon.
We could end the curfew and choose to meet the thoughtful demands made for YEARS by Black organizers and the leadership of Freedom Inc and Urban Triage – along with acknowledging the insidious hold of racism that has allowed those in power – and much of white Madison – to ignore their demands for so long. Instead of bloated budgets for policing and jails, we could invest in democratic, participatory, models – like Community Control of the Police – that shift us away from the militarization of policing and towards models of safety and accountability that center the needs of the communities most impacted.
We could listen to Black and Brown young people, heed the example of the Minneapolis Public Schools, and get cops out of our schools and begin the work to repair the harm of criminalization of our young people in spaces meant to nurture their development. We could fire Matt Kenny (because, really, do we want the man that killed an unarmed 19-year-old teaching new officers?!), and release people jailed for crimes of poverty. We could choose to center Black voices, Black experience, Black vision, and invest in Black futures.
Implementing the deep structural change needed takes work, but the choice to do so should not be hard. We would be remiss to not say that it does come with significant political and personal risk – particularly for those in positions of power for whom stances that challenge entrenched systems of White Supremacy would certainly face backlash – but, we are talking about matters of life and death. We are talking about the very bodies and spirits of our children, our youth – the future of our city. And we are at a time that requires both outrage and moral courage. As our nation descends into fascism, there has never been a better time to act with boldness and claim a different direction by offering an alternative to the doctrine of “dominating” others through violence and force Trump is peddling. Let us not cringe at his rhetoric dripping with racist authoritarianism while our local tax dollars subsidize state violence that this week was used to tear gas our grieving children.
To pretend we are all powerless to make new choices here not only falsely diminishes the structural and positional power many of us have, it also dismisses the beauty and resilience of this movement. Black young people, who have been systematically excluded from any meaningful sites of power, are rising up and claiming their power – their pain, their love, their rage, their truth – to reveal that things can be different … that things must be different. And all we have to do is follow their lead.