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Open Letter to the University of Wisconsin

Dear Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UW Chief of Police Susan Riseling,

As distinguished alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, two of the first Forward Under Forty Award Recipients by the UW Alumni Association, and progenitors of the UW-Madison PEOPLE and Information Technology Academy (ITA) programs who have done a lot to advance the university’s mission personally and professionally here in Madison and across the country, we are deeply dismayed and offended by the recent arrest of King Shabazz, and the rash of other racist incidents that have taken place on “our” campus.

For us, the issue goes beyond embarrassing the young man, disrupting the education of his fellow UW students, and offending other students and faculty by arresting him during class. It is your lack of a “vigorous and fair response” to these problems that most concerns us.

We are concerned that last month, a male student who spit on, physically accosted and yelled racist statements at a black female UW-Madison student in one of your residence halls was punished by being given a ticket while you arrest Mr. Shabazz for spray painting graffiti. It reminds us of how state legislatures around the country have given prison sentences to thousands of black men who sell $10 rocks of crack cocaine while white men who get probation, if that, for using and selling greater levels of powder cocaine.

Apologies after that fact are important, but they ring hollow if you don’t do more to stop our black and brown children from being harassed and physically abused by students who feel they have some unique privilege to wear the cardinal and white, and retain their status as students on the UW-Madison campus.

If you pursue criminal charges against Mr. Shabazz, we expect that you will pursue more substantial criminal charges against the student who physically abused one of our girls. If you do not practice such fairness, you will send at least three unfortunate messages to your student body and to your Badger Alumni community that is watching you here in Wisconsin and abroad:

◆ White lives matter more than black ones do. We thought All Lives Matter, right?
◆ Non-black students can commit crimes and not receive appropriate punishment for it. The young man who spit on our girls – his name didn’t even make the news…but Mr. Shabazz’s did. Why is that?
◆ UW-Madison is not worthy of the black students who enroll there or worthy of the support of its black alumni who expect more from our campus’ leadership.

We know that you cannot stop students who were raised poorly, or who have adopted racist views outside of the teachings and examples they learned from their parents and communities in which they were raised, from engaging in ignorant, racist, violent and other abhorrent behavior.

However, your response can be more effective and should certainly be more fair.

Writing “the white man is the devil” on campus property should not be tolerated. Spray-painting public or private property that doesn’t belong to us shouldn’t be tolerated, in general. However, (a) Does the punishment fit the crime? and (b) Are white males more important than young black men and women who are also members of “our” campus?

Instead of criminalizing yet another black man in Wisconsin for a crime that doesn’t deserve it (our opinion), why don’t you do something markedly different. When Kaleem was 13 years old and in 8th grade, he was enamored with break dancing and the early period of Hip-Hop culture. What came with the culture was B-boy style graffiti. Kaleem began spray painting graffiti art on buildings all around Madison. However, one early Saturday morning during the spring of 1985, Kaleem made the mistake of spray painting the town houses where he lived in South Madison. These town houses were managed by Reverend Carmen Porco.

Reverend Porco quickly found out that Kaleem was the one who tagged our building. He showed up at Kaleem’s front door, told his aunt who raised him what he had done, and both of them made Kaleem stand there for two hours and watch the person Reverend Porco hired sandblast the graffiti off the wall. Afterwards, Kaleem was made to pick up debris around complex and apologize for his behavior. No police were called but the message was sent and received.

Why not make Mr. Shabazz sandblast his own graffiti off the wall, write an apology to his fellow students, and give him a ticket …and make the student who spit on our girls engage in similar restitution. If we were the chancellor of UW-Madison or the chief of police, that young man would be carrying books for black girls all across campus for the next week, and he would be volunteering with black children in Madison to address his racist attitude and hopefully heal his racist heart.

As leaders of “our” respected, University of Wisconsin-Madison, we expect a much stronger and more effective response from you regarding the racist and violent behaviors of students under your supervision.

What are you going to do next? We would like an answer, and we are always here to help. We hope to hear from you within the next few business days.


Kaleem Caire ‘00 and Lisa Peyton-Caire BA ’96 MS ’99