Many Americans have been noticing that local police and sheriff’s departments have become more and more militarized over the past decade. More and more, students are worried that this is starting to occur in police departments on college campuses, too. The UW Blackout Movement will host an event tonight on East Campus Mall in hopes of starting a conversation with students and to encourage the UW-Madison police and police nationwide to be more transparent about the military-style equipment they have access to.
“What we want to do is to really draw attention to the campus,” say UW junior Tyriek Mack, one of the organizers of the event. “We’re concerned about the transparency of the police departments all throughout the nation. We think this is a good step to get the campus community, the city, the state, and the nation really focused on the militarization of the police.”
The UW BlackOut Movement, which has received national attention and has grown significantly since their first protest, will host the event. “BlackOut is a group on campus that is dedicated to representing students of color and ensuring that our concerns and issues are heard and that means from a legislative perspective and an economic perspective and from a social perspective,” Mack says.
Things were starting to get heated up on campus with a series of protests by groups of color taking place last spring. Sometimes momentum suffers over summer when many students are away, but Mack says they have kept the activist momentum going strong. “We are always focused on the issues all the time. The timing of this is back to school, but this is something that we’ve been working on all summer,” Mack says. “We are ready for a big event.”
After a series of very unfortunate racial incidents on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus last year, UW-Madison officials have been working over the summer to create a community where every person feels welcome, valued, and able to succeed. This week, they released a campus climate progress report that outlines a plan for increased diversity and inclusivity training for teaching assistants, a new community-building program, hiring more mental health staff, opening a campus black culture center, and more.
Is Mack encouraged by all of this? “To be completely honest with you, the rhetoric of the university in their initiative … I think their initiatives were reactive,” he says. “We have been asking and demanding for this for a while. It wasn’t like the university out of the kindness of their heart proactively said that they wanted to make our experiences [on campus] better.
“It seems that the reason they are doing a lot of the things that they are doing is that appeals to their business investors,” he adds. “For me, I think their rhetoric and their use of the media is almost used as a distraction for us to not continue to push for more in the future. I feel like they’ve used the media to pacify us: to say, ‘We gave you this. We don’t want you to ask for anything more.’”
Reggie Thedford, a 2nd-year law student at UW, is helping to organize tonight’s event and he says that it’s important for people to come out to get the information that they need.
“Folks should come out to this rally to gain some information on what we are presenting as far as the demilitarization of the police. We will have a lot of information and, as you know, ignorance can be bliss. If you don’t know that it’s going on, then you aren’t going to do anything to move forward,” Thedford says. “If you do know what’s going on, then maybe it will increase the chances of you taking action and getting involved.”
Thedford just got involved in Associated Students of Madison (ASM) this year. “This is all part of the bigger platform of Black Lives Matter,” Thedford says. “I did a capstone research paper on in undergrad on this same issue. Being from St. Louis, Missouri, I saw firsthand what the St. Louis County police and how they looked with their military equipment. When I saw Tyriek was presenting on this issue to ASM, I knew that I had to be involved with it, too.”
Thedford stresses that tonight’s event is not just for black people or people of color.
“We’re ALL going to be affected. Typically, you see more people of color who are intimidated by the police than people who are not of color, but no one wants to be on campus where they have the potential to feel unsafe,” he says. “This will be information that ALL students need to know whether they are students of color or not. It’s good for students who pay tuition to know where their funds are going.”
The bottom line: Thedford just wants to see some transparency with the UW police and students involved in campus issues. Mack agrees.
“The event will be an opportunity for people to share their opinions on the matter, too, and speak at an open forum,” Mack says. “It’s a good chance for people to come and network and get more involved as it relates to the policies behind the movement that has been building throughout this country.”
Community Control of UWPD Pt. 1, hosted by UW BlackOut, will be held tonight, 6:45 p.m., at 333 East Campus Mall, UW-Madison in the Hearing Room on the 4th floor.