“We can’t have it both ways. We can’t say, ‘We need folks to address the violence that goes on in this community,’ and then when we have folks standing up behind me who want to step up, then the city wants to play games. We can’t have it both ways. Either you want to address the issue or you don’t,” community leader Derrell Connor said in a press conference held outside of Mayor Paul Soglin’s office last night. “And if you don’t, let us know and we will do what we need to do to address it. People are tired of the games. They are tired of the double-speak and the constant run-around and the dog-and-pony show and press conferences talking about all of the stuff you’re going to do, and nothing ever gets done. And that’s been the M.O. of this town for a very, very long time, but now we have a group [here tonight] that is saying that we’ve had enough.”
Connor joined other grassroots community members and leaders and the Focused Interruption Coalition, hosts of the press conference, to talk about the importance of using peer support programs to tackle violence and to urge the City of Madison to continue to support its 15-point violence prevention plan and to “deliver on its promise.”
Focused Interruption Coalition spokesperson Caliph Muab’El has been vocal on social media saying that the mayor has been pitting black leaders against each other and has unintentionally misrepresented peer support in his last press conference in a way that put reputations and lives in jeopardy. Muab’El added that “we are playing politics while lives are being lost.” He said the mayor committed to $3 million for the 15-point plan implementation, a holistic approach to violence prevention, over a period of three years, but that “today we are struggling with making sure those resources flow out into the community.” Part of those funds are set to undergo a request for proposal in the fall, but until then the money is not available for the group to use to help fund initiatives to reduce crime
“Behind me, you see community people,” said Muab’El, “and this represents the heart of the people in our community. Today we are here to really touch on key factors in reference to the 15-point plan. We’re here because of peer support, peer support specialists and peer mediation. These are evidenced-based practices that we know are effective all across the country. Madison is really far behind. We’re here to get the resources that were promised to us by the mayor roughly six months ago.”
Rita Adair, a longtime Madisonian who has worked in the community for 30 years who moved to Chicago seven years ago before recently coming back, spoke first. “I came back to Madison to work in this community. I think that it’s important for our politicians – especially our mayor’s office – to take this seriously,” she said. “People are dying. Mothers are crying. People are losing. The pain is felt by many … it’s widespread in this community. You cannot wait. It’s time to act now. I hope that the mayor and other city politicians will take this seriously and not put us on hold.”
Connor said that he has been in this community for 20 years and is a father of three. “I’ve been honored and privileged to be involved in a number of things in this community – things that help make this city a better place,” Connor said. “The one thing that I noticed is that the players change, but the games remain the same. What I mean by that is for too long in this community we have paid lip service to a problem that has been around for a long time. We have the issue of gun violence, the issue of gangs, the issue of young people not having resources or outlets to do productive things and we find ourselves in a situation where it has gotten worse, not better.”
Connor said that there are folks in the Madison community who continue to play games with this problem. “We are playing with young people’s lives. We have folks arguing over resources and arguing over dollars that really don’t amount to much … and it has to stop,” he said. “We also have a political climate in this community for a very long time when someone speaks out and speaks the real truth – particularly an African American – they hit you between eyes and they get ostracized. They get called ‘angry.’ And then they get other African Americans to speak out against those people. That ends today. It needs to stop. It’s gotten old, and it’s gotten tired.
“These kids out here are suffering. We have lost a generation of kids and we can’t lose another. We all have to do our part,” he added. “I have to be better; our entire community has to be better. Do we really care about all of our young people in this city? If we do, we need to prove it.”
Jeff Burkhart, executive director of Literacy Network, said that he came to the press conference to stand in solidarity with all of the different organizations who support the plan.
“I’m hopeful the City can come together to make sure that we have the support for the kids and the families that is necessary to combat the violence that is in the community in a productive way through mentoring and through all of the really great programs that we have together,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges that we see in Madison is that there is not enough collaboration and cooperation among city government and non-profit community and other players who are here trying to make a difference. I’m standing here to call on the mayor and the City Council to do what’s right for our community to make sure we’re all working towards the same goal of reducing violence and bringing people up and making sure we have all the supports to do that.”
Zandra Hagberg, a Focused Interruption Coalition (FIC) member, said that we are in a under-resourced community where there is unaddressed trauma. “We have to do better. One of the ways to do that is through peer support. You can see all of the support that is here today and we can all speak to the importance of peer support,” she said. “You saw our passion play out publicly and our passion is from the insurance that these resources go to the communities that they are supposed to serve. We have met with the City and we have received a verbal commitment that FIC will be working with Nehemiah, Boys and Girls Club and the City to ensure that peer support is done and done where the resources make a difference.”
Muab’El said that the message is clear today and that the community has spoken and will continue to speak up.
“We don’t want to continue to receive lip service in place of service,” he said. “We need those resources and we need them now. We don’t need politics to be played out. We don’t need our people to be played against our people. We need to get the resources out there so we can start to serve our community more effectively and more diligently.”
Focused Interruption Coalition members met with Mayor Soglin’s mayoral aides earlier in the day, which Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson described as “the most uncomfortable meeting I’ve seen in the City of Madison.”
“But given the violence that has taken place in this city, that meeting had to be uncomfortable if we are serious about the issue,” Johnson added.
Muab’El was asked if he had any optimism from that meeting.
“I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe anything until I see it. I believe that seeing is believing and I think the community has suffered long enough,” he said. “We have ignored poor people, underclassed people, people of color in this community for far too long and we’re saying that today it stops. The community is rising up to say that we are going to take charge of our own pathways to a better future and a brighter tomorrow. We are no longer going to tolerate the lip service of politicians, of City, of County, or of anybody else.”