Tonight’s expert panel at the First Unitarian Society on MMSD policies, training, practice and procedure will take place without Madison Police Department Student Resource Officer (SRO) Tray Turner.

Officer Turner has more at stake than most in the state of our public schools. In addition to being a student resource officer, Turner is Black and an MMSD parent. He wanted to participate on the panel despite knowing that it was inspired by the staff-involved assault of a Whitehorse Middle School Black girl, a controversial incident in which the police were also criticized. As an officer with disproportionate power, Turner’s willingness to meet with members of the public on painful issues, in which MPD may have played a role, signals a level of integrity, compassion and commitment towards a better future.

Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray demonstrated the same qualities at public meetings over contentious issues. During the final year of his career, the Community Response Team organized multiple community-led panels on the topic of excessive force, investigations and the officer-involved killing of Paul Heenan. Chief Wray didn’t send a proxy to take the heat; rather, he attended every single one. And while I personally believe he lacked in oversight and didn’t do all he could to prevent future excessive force incidents, he gave his presence when it was most challenging to do so, and that matters. When his wife and son asked why he continued to show up and face the criticism and adversity he said, “I told them I had to take it because there’s a human being who’s not here anymore and I’m not blaming anyone, but people are hurting.’’

Chief Wray showed a level of compassion and integrity that gave people hope.

When facing community members who aren’t police apologists, these characteristics appear to be both foreign and threatening to the current MPD Chief Mike Koval, who has forbidden Officer Turner from serving on the panel. At this event, Chief Koval can’t control the narrative or intimidate the facilitators, so he has compensated by stripping his officer of the freedom to express all of his identities save one: the ranked badge number who dare not demonstrate greater strength in character than the chief himself.

Of course, this isn’t the reason Chief Koval will give for forcing his officer off of tonight’s panel.

What he’ll tell you is that he doesn’t think it makes sense for an MPD officer to partake in a panel discussion about state and internal school rules on the safety of students and staff when his officer supposedly works at MMSD for the safety of students and staff. He’ll say he can’t pay overtime for a school officer to attend an event such as this when we know if it was a soccer game with Black children, he’d pay overtime just for the photo op. He’ll say he’s protecting the officer and his position as an SRO from criticism despite the fact that every time Chief Koval opens his mouth to blow that dog whistle, his officers are the ones who pay.

With yet another opportunity to show the human side of Madison’s police department, Chief Koval has closed ranks, deepening the growing us-vs-them divide between Black families who just want their kids to feel safe in school and the Madison Police Department who, according to Chief Koval, have no funding nor use for such discussions.

Let this ill-conceived move on the part of Chief Koval not overshadow the important conversation that is to be had tonight but instead serve as a reminder of why it so desperately needs to happen. We must, as communities, continue to learn the ins and outs of the systems that control our lives so that we can create new ones that work for all people, not just the white, affluent people who created them, and never again make the same mistake of allowing someone like Chief Koval to take the reins.