Madison356 facilitated a public town hall discussion with several Black police chiefs and sheriffs in Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon.
“We often talk about police, what they’re doing and not doing, in terms of representation but we have some Black men leading some major places in our state,” Madison365 CEO and Publisher Henry Sanders said.
Sanders moderated the discussion, held on Facebook Live with Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes, incoming Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, Beloit Police Chief Andre Sayles, acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jefferey Norman and Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas, accepting questions from audience members. The conversation touched on topics such as accountability among officers, community relations, and training, among other things.
Wisconsin’s Black police chiefs and sheriffs all gave their reflections on the verdict against Derek Chauvin trial, the former Minneapolis police officer found guilty of muder and manslaughter for killing George Floyd last year. Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for second-degree manslaughter.
“I had followed the trial obviously, and that prosecution had a great case. I felt the actions of the officer were not only beyond policy but beyond reason and certainly shot my conscience,” Barnes said.
Barnes and others like Lucas and Sayles explained the verdict did not surprise them, but they felt a sense of relief to witness accountability in this instance. Barrett said he felt happy to see some form of justice and accountability, and was gratified to see other officers testify against Chauvin’s actions.
Norman believes this trial will ignite a trend in regards to the level of accountability in cases of police brutality and hold officers to a higher standard. Barnes also found it disheartening that so many community members were surprised by the guilty verdict. The trial renewed his interest in ensuring the Madison Police Department promoted a culture where something like this could never happen.
“We all have those who are hypocritical in leadership positions where you don’t have the capacity to really be trustworthy or find that there is credibility among the people you lead,” Norman said.
Sayles emphasized the importance of good sergeants who act as liaisons between officers and department leaders. Their job includes disseminating information from the top-down.
“The tone sometime of the patrol is off the tone of the briefing. I try to get to as many briefings as I can to make sure the tone is right because we may have a briefing for 30-45 minutes and everybody walks out ticked off. Next thing you know they’re ticked out on the street.”
Many of the men shared their experiences having “the talk” with their children — discussions so many Black parents are familiar with as they teach their children how to deal with police. While some of the chiefs had young Black children, others had Black teenagers and young adults. Each of them taught their children best practices when interacting with police officers.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in our country and in our communities restoring that trust. It’s part on the community but it’s also on law enforcement as well,” Lucas said.