Dylan Brogan, from Isthmus, has quietly been covering stories from Police Chief Mike Koval’s Madison Police Department in a way Madison’s greater media has not. These stories beg the question: what else don’t we know? And also continues to build the case that Koval is unfit to be Chief of Police.
In his latest piece, Brogan was leaked a picture of a whiteboard from the Madison Police Department’s Central Precinct that started off with “solutions” to State Streets homeless problem. And, of course, these solutions were nothing like pushing for housing or services, but instead, some of the “acceptable” solutions could be considered medieval in their barbaric nature. Some of the so-called acceptable solutions were artwork that you can’t sit on, taking out chairs or benches, “decorative” spikes and more.
Then we get into the more outlandish suggestions such as quicksand, a Burmese tiger pit, frequent carpet bombing, unlimited heroin and more. Madison Lt. Brian Austin labeled these as a “poor attempt at a joke.”
What’s funny about people being homeless? What’s funny about suffering? What’s funny about finding “solutions” that only heighten the suffering of those homeless? What’s funny about making jokes about death and of what society and some leaders, business and political, have decided are “undesirables”?
This police department has already shown it has a hard time with those suffering from mental wellness, as our last two police killings have shown us. It has already shown that it’s more than capable of dealing a cold hard hand to those our society sees as undesirable. It takes part in barbaric practices to rid this cities sores from sight.
But the dismissing this as a joke gone wrong is even more disturbing. It begs the question, how many other “jokes” are out there? Is there a culture of making an obscene statement and then just dismissing it as a joke or “letting off steam”?
Language leads to us creating a mindset, and it shows that this police department has a culture and mindset of wanting to violently remove societal undesirables. Years ago we’ve seen officers fired for racist messaging, we must now question if there is more where that came from. Are there more violent and disgusting jokes from a so-called “model” police force?
And here we are, with both the Mayor and Police Chief silent on the issue. A chief, I remind you, that said he would welcome any “valid” criticism of his police force. Apparently, they are investigating, but will we learn anything about the investigation and its outcomes? I’m betting we won’t. But what’s clear is that the chief is not willing to stand and take responsibility for his department, and his silence is showing us that maybe he doesn’t believe this criticism is valid.
“Is it so hard to believe that a police department would indiscriminately use pepper spray on a group of black people, the very same police department where a black person in Madison is over 10 times more likely than a white person to be arrested?”
It safe to assume that this isn’t an outlier, as things like this rarely are. This behavior doesn’t happen out of nowhere, there has to be a culture and a comfort about it for it to happen. If there wasn’t a culture or comfort for officers to voice these jokes, they would have stayed between a small group of individuals. Not on a department whiteboard. So what we can glean is that there is a high probability that there is a generally acceptable culture of dehumanization and this, to me, is disgusting.
If this is how officers blow off steam and deal with stress then this department needs to find a better way than the dehumanization of people, especially those that are vulnerable to their department’s violence.
But this is just one story of this summer. There’s another story that has subtly gone under the radar — the pepper-spraying of a group of black folks (including children) on June 25 at Shake the Lake and what appears to be a downplaying or attempted cover-up of the event during Shake the Lake.
Many of the civilian accounts from that night don’t support the official narrative and indicate that if there was a fight, it was a small one. And if you are paying attention, it becomes difficult to believe that police reports are anything but a report to justify police actions and not actually what was happening.
Six mounted patrol units indiscriminately used pepper spray on a group of people around a fight; this group was a mix of men, women, and children. Chief Koval’s defense of using pepper spray, that injured and traumatized people, in essence, boils down to a thought that the officers were justified in hurting these people because some might have been hurt in the fight.
He said about those in the fight that they, “could have been roundhoused to the point where they might have had fractures or worse.” Are there no other techniques to break up a crowd other than verbal commands and pepper spray?
We don’t even know what effort they made in their verbal commands to break up the group, if they did at all. Do they do the same thing during Badger games when there is a large crowd and a fight? No, otherwise we’d hear about a group of college students getting pepper-sprayed every weekend.
After the toxin was let loose on the crowd, people went running and many were in need of medical attention and at least one received medical attention from other officers on the scene. Some witnesses and others around helped give attention to those they found, one of them being a 9-year-old girl.
This event didn’t make the local news and no official report of an incident went out to news stations. This is abnormal. Usually, after there is a public disturbance that the police feel required police intervention, there is a report filed to local news outlets. This didn’t happen, giving the feel that the Madison Police Department wanted to keep this as quiet as possible. And it was effective in that goal.
Only due to Brogan’s diligence in following up rumors did this story actually happen. This story did not end up being widely picked up by other media outlets in the area. Showing us that most news outlets only follow the official story, and showing us their compliance in violent oppression.
These two stories, along with everything else we have seen from this police department, are just snapshots of something below the surface. There are also many rumors, much smoke, to officers harassing homeless individuals downtown. But, of course, since they’re homeless they are less likely to be believed when reporting such harassment. But is that so hard to believe?
Is it so hard to believe that a police department would indiscriminately use pepper spray on a group of black people, the very same police department where a black person in Madison is over 10 times more likely than a white person to be arrested?
Is it so hard to believe that a police department that makes jokes about homeless individuals, in a barbaric fashion, would harass them as well? Especially as our city’s mayor continues to criminalize and dehumanize those that are homeless … that would rather punish them for being homeless than find solutions? That sees them as a visual sore on the city to hide, but not to actually address the root causes.
We spend $65 million a year on our police department, more than anything else in our budget, and they always ask for more. To even our own chief’s admission, police don’t solve underlying issues, but are a response unit. So why would spending more money on “law and order” actually solve the problems they are charged to respond to? This is insanity. This is madness.
So maybe, just maybe, a better idea would be using some of that $65 million and some of that bloated budget on housing first initiatives. Maybe, just maybe, we stop criminalizing and ticketing those that are homeless. Maybe, just maybe, the mayor stops trying to get in the way of the tiny houses development and fully support it.
I’m betting that not only would all those initiatives save us money, but would actually solve this city’s homeless crisis. This would actually be a “progressive” move. This would actually solve our problems — much better than free heroin or spikes on the ground. This is called putting humanity over property. But I’m not sure some of our city leaders have it in them to do this.
I’m interested in the cost of a housing first initiative, but what we do know is that it costs less than letting people be homeless. So maybe, for a city that is so concerned about its budget and costs, as well as a ballooned police budget, a solution that would help address both and that costs less is the way to go.
But, more importantly, it’s also the humane way to go.