On June 22, the video of Madison Police Department officers arresting a Madison teenager went viral. The reason the video went viral was not because the young woman was black; no sadly our racial disparities in Madison are not news. The video went viral because of the violent nature in which two Madison Police Officers took an eighteen-year-old black teenager into custody, with kicks, punches and repeated use of a Taser. Reading newspaper reports and subsequent comments to the articles online once again laid bare the vicious nature and face of the racism in our community as numerous individuals lamented that the police did not shoot Genele Laird.

Some of us wondered how, at the very least, parents could look at that video and not be horrified at the treatment this teenager received. Perhaps it is because so many of us in predominantly white Madison cannot imagine a black teenager as our child. However, as people of faith, we are called to recognize our common humanity, to recognize that we are one body.

Chief Koval has suggested that the video of Genele Laird’s arrest offers only a snapshot into the context of the interaction; that it did not provide the full context. True, the video does not reflect what happened in the mall; but he is also correct in that Genele Laird’s arrest and treatment, including the use of force against her, represents but one snapshot into a larger context and history of the treatment of our brothers and sisters of color within our country and our community. The 11:1 arrest disparity in Madison, the incarceration disparities in Wisconsin, and drug laws that have targeted communities of color for decades represent the larger context the Chief must remember and acknowledge because this is the larger context within which the arrest of Genele Laird is seen, understood and experienced.

However, as the deaths of Paul Heenan, Tony Robinson, and now Michael William Schumacher remind us, the use of force within our police department transcends race. On June 30th, a call was placed to 911 reporting that a man was in the lake and acting strangely. Forty-five minutes later another call from the same neighborhood was made to 911 reporting a break-in. The family had left the home; the intruder was in the home alone. Like the call in regard to Tony Robinson, an officer responded before back-up arrived and one of our brothers is dead.

On June 27th, clergy and faith community leaders gathered at Madison-area Urban Ministry to discuss our role in advocating and acting for changes in our criminal justice system, specifically the role and practices of our police department. We the undersigned state our support for the following:

1. An independent investigation of the arrest of Genele Laird;
2. A Restorative Justice process that names all of the harm perpetrated in the arrest of Genele Laird, including the use of force used against Ms. Laird which seeks to repair the harm done to Ms. Laird;
3. Implementation of a policy mandating that individuals arrested by Madison Police after a physical altercation be taken first to the hospital to be examined before being taken to the jail for booking to avoid what can otherwise result in a delay of hours before medical attention is received;
4. That the Mayor and Common Council utilize their authority under Chapter 62 of the Wisconsin Statutes to order the Madison Chief of Police and Department to cooperate with the comprehensive review process being funded through the City of Madison;
5. That the RFP and selected reviewer conducting the comprehensive review of the Madison Police Department include a review of department policies and procedures related to use of force.

These issues: the racial disparities, the use of force, and the lack of justice and fairness in our social and political systems transcend all boundaries of religious and denominational beliefs. They transcend political party and affiliation. We are called to address these issues because they reflect upon and impact our basic humanity.

We call upon the people who have been entrusted with the power to effect change in the policies and practices that undergird and perpetuate the disparities in our communities, to enter into dialogue with this community and with us as we do our part to address the attitudes, biases, and prejudice that allow racism to persist in our community. We call upon you to use your power to study standards and models of policing that support the entire community, that reduce fear, build trust and create a community that is safer for residents and police, and that seek to de-escalate situations prior to the use of force.

We commit to examining our own failure to challenge the racism and bias within our communities in the ways that we practice our theology, and in our failure to preach and advocate for justice and equity. As our first steps, we commit to the following actions within our congregations:
1. Educational forums on the following:
a. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing;
b. Use of Force standards and practices;
c. Restorative Justice beyond victim/offender conferencing;
d. Models of Community Policing and Community Control of Policing.
e. Educational forums on the findings and recommendations from the Comprehensive Review of the Madison Police Department Policies and Procedures.

We commit to working across denominational, party, and jurisdictional lines to ensure that Madison becomes the city that it should be; the city that it must be.

We, the undersigned members of the clergy and faith community leaders, add our names to the Open Letter from Clergy and Faith Community Leaders to Mayor Soglin and the Common Council on the Matter of MPD Use of Force.

Reverend Ann Beaty
United Church of Christ

Reverend Nick Utphall
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis
WI Faith Voices for Justice

The Reverend Staci-Marrese Wheeler
Lakeview Moravian Community Church

Reverend Joseph Baring
St. Paul AME Church

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman
Congregation Shaarei Shamayim

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch
Temple Beth El

Linda Ketcham, Director
Madison-area Urban Ministry

John Mix, Retired
Dane County Jail Chaplain

Mary Fulton, MUM Board
Community Member

The Reverend Dr. Jonathan Grieser, Rector
Grace Episcopal Church

Karen Andro, Director of Outreach Ministries
First United Methodist Church

Reverend Winton Boyd
Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ

Reverend Lex Liberatore
Lake Edge United Church of Christ

Reverend Breanna Illene
United Methodist Church

Reverend Lori Powell
St. Mark’s

Reverend Michael Schuler
First Unitarian Society

Reverend Lamarr Gibson, Retired
United Methodist Church

Reverend Dr. Julia Weaver

Reverend David Hart

Reverend Karen Quinlan, Minister
James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Reverend Scott Anderson
Executive Director
WI Council of Churches

Reverend Jeanne Tyler, Retired,
United Church of Christ Minister

Reverend John Tyler, Retired
United Church of Christ Minister

Reverend Dr. Ron Adams
Madison Mennonite Church

Reverend Dr. Amanda Stein
United Methodist Church

Dr. Steve Koslov
Concerned Citizen

Ruth Hoffman Hein
Concerned Citizen

Reverend Dr. Jerry Folk
Retired Lutheran Pastor

Reverend Elsa Gumm
The Church at Christ Memorial

Reverend Stephen Marsh
Lake Edge Lutheran Church

Becky Schigiel
First Unitarian Society

Reverend Larry Sexe
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Betsey Day, Co-Chair
Equity Ministry Team
First Unitarian Society

Reverend Erica Liu
Presbyterian Church

Reverend Mark Esldon,
Presbyterian Church

Reverend Tim Kehl, Retired
United Church of Christ &
Former Madison Alder

Robin Downs
Equity Ministry Team
First Unitarian Society

Sally Lehrner
Equity Ministry Team
First Unitarian Society

Rabbi Renee Bauer
Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice

Robin Lowney-Lankton
Equity Ministry Team
First Unitarian Society