Madison365 hosted a discussion of criminal justice reform and social justice as part of its daylong Real Talk Virtual Summit on Racial Justice June 5. It was one of many panel discussions taking on difficult issues from a variety of perspectives.
This discussion featured Freedom Inc Co-director M Adams, Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell, FOSTER Founder Jacquelyn Hunt, former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray and Heal the Hood Founder Ajamou Butler.
It was moderated by Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders and Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson who opened the event by asking Hunt to give her perspective from the grassroots level.
“I’m seeing a lot of anger in the community. People are tired,” Hunt said. “They have been wrestling with and have been exposed to so much that their souls are now just weary and people are crying out and they are doing it in a lot of different ways – they are doing it through protest; they are doing it through looting.
“People have been exposed to so much. There is a real unrest out there,” she added. “People have grown tired and their souls are weary. They just don’t know what else to do. People are tired of the same old rhetoric that goes around that doesn’t really do anything. It’s just a lot of hot air. They want change now for real.”
Wray, the former Madison Police Chief, said that he’s been traveling quite a bit throughout the United States and what’s he’s heard, especially since the murder of George Floyd, is that when these types of misconduct occur, we must move a lot faster.
“That we don’t get caught up in the bureaucracy of internal procedures and process. People want action. They want it a lot faster. Justice should be swift and it’s not and that has led to some of the frustration,” he said. “But I’m also hearing that when police officers are involved in misconduct they want police officers treated the same way that citizens are treated. They want the criminal justice system to deal with them in the same manner. I think that is very loud and clear.”
Wray said that he also hearing from communities across the United States in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder is that this is not a protest; this is a movement.
“I’m probably the oldest person on this panel and I’ve lived through the ’60s and it has that feel,” Wray said. “For the people that are asking for change, it’s beyond the people that are asking for change. I saw an ABC poll that said that 74 percent of Americans believe the problem with the criminal justice system is deeper than what we are seeing.
“When you start to see a fundamental shift in the way that people think about a particular issue – and we are seeing that – People want police officers to be treated the same way as every other American,” he added. “We still, at times, tend to hide behind due process, policies, procedures and the law. That is creating a sense of frustration when there is misconduct.”
Butler said that he’s seen a lot of emotions in Milwaukee. “The climate right now here in Milwaukee is tense … it’s really tense. It needs to get even more tense and it needs to get more hectic. We’re going to stay on these front lines and we’re going to keep pushing.”
M Adams has been leading the movement here in Madison.
“People want something radically different then what was before. They are not interested in returning to policing from 10 years ago,” she said. “People are saying that we no longer want to use policing or prisons to solve our social issues. Instead, we want to build up pro-Black, life-affirming institutions to deal with our issues inside of our communities.
“If people want to understand what’s happening in the streets, people are saying ‘no more’ to what we currently have.”
Mitchell quoted Ralph Ellison saying that “there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.”
“What you see right now are people waking up from that sleep and now we’re in a situation where everybody is woke,” he says. “We are waking up everybody. And we are going to keep everybody woke until the change that we want to see happens in this space.
“That’s what our allies need to understand – there is no rest,” he continues. “Those that believe in freedom can’t rest. I can’t sleep at night; I can’t have peace of mind.”
M Adams said that Freedom Inc. fights for community control over the police because it is their assessment that the fundamental reason why there is continued violence against Black people as a whole is because they do not have the power to hold the police accountable.
“Power is not transparency. Knowing what happened is not the same as being able to do something about what happened,” she said. “The Black community we’ve always known about it whether or not there has been video – so this isn’t about giving us information on how many of us have been killed or arrested … we already know.
“This is really about having Black communities have the ability to determine what safety is for us. That is at the crux of what community control is,” she adds. “We want to determine the policy, practices and procedures. We will instead invest in things that transform society.”