Ending Police Brutality

Kelda’s daughter at her first #BlackLivesMatter protest in 2014, to support #FergusonToMadison and protest the murder of Michael Brown

Not one more. We must end police brutality: state-sponsored violence that disproportionately harms Black people and communities of color. While police killings are horrifyingly frequent in our country, it does not have to be this way. Communities around the country are implementing better policies that decrease police violence and increase public safety. While police brutality affects all of us, it has its roots in centuries of white supremacist violence and control over communities of color. White people must commit to dismantling racist systems, and prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of people of color over the toxic comforts of white supremacy. As Madison’s next State Senator, I will continue to make ending police violence a priority by pushing for big structural reform to policing and our criminal justice system.  

Defund the Police — what does it mean, and why is it important?

It means we change how we spend money to create public safety. We reduce the amount of money spent on police – dangerous military equipment, continually expanding budgets that eat up more and more public resources, even as human and social services get defunded. Instead, we must invest our public resources in things that actually prevent crime and create public safety. And it means much greater oversight, higher standards, and clear accountability for the officers and detectives who remain.

It means we must stop treating the police as the “Swiss army knife” for all situations. A 911 call reporting teens playing music too loudly doesn’t need an armed police response, but instead a community mediator or neighborhood liaison. A person experiencing a mental health crisis or drug overdose is best served by a health care responder. A person sleeping on a bench or in a car needs a housing specialist or social worker trained in rehoming people. A couple smoking pot in their home doesn’t need any intervention at all. In fact, most police calls could and should be handled by people who are not armed law enforcement officials.

If we want to truly create public safety, forever expanding the presence and budget of the police won’t do it. Arresting and incarcerating ever more people, and criminalizing more and more behaviors, and selectively enforcing those unjust laws, is breaking our budgets, creating a new racist “Jim Crow” system, and causing tremendous lifelong harm to millions of Americans, disproportionately people of color. And it isn’t making us any safer! We incarcerate more people and spend more money on police and prisons than any other nation on earth, and it’s not preventing crime. Police solve fewer than 50% of violent crimes, and that doesn’t account for the many that go unreported. Fewer, better trained police detectives could increase that rate. Restorative justice would both reduce recidivism and help provide closure and restitution to victims, while costing far less than prisons.

Instead, we need to reinvest in communities that have been harmed by over-policing and decades of under-investing. Public schools, parks, and public spaces should be well-resourced and welcoming. Workers in every neighborhood should earn a living wage and have health care. Housing stock should be safe and well-tended. It is always better to invest in people and communities, which will create public safety, than to pay for the failure to invest with an endless cycle of crime, arrests, and incarceration.

These reforms are pro-police and pro-public safety. I encourage everyone to visit joincampaignzero.org to learn more about some of these reforms and see the research behind them.

My dad spent his career in law enforcement, including serving as a sheriff’s deputy, a state trooper, and a teacher of future law enforcement officers. He also instilled racial consciousness in me, and taught us the importance of using our white privilege to attack systemic racism. I take this seriously as a parent, working to raise my children to be active anti-racists even as our culture and history works to install bias and maintain white supremacy. I take this seriously as an attorney and former legislative leader, working to reform our criminal justice system and eliminate racial disparities in health care, education, housing, and economic security. And I take it seriously as a candidate for office, knowing that we are not free, and we will never be a truly great nation, until Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives matter as much as white lives do. 

  • Adopt stringent use of force policies that prohibit police from using deadly force unless there is an imminent, objective threat to someone’s life and every other means of intervention has failed. Require that the least violent and lethal use of force be employed. Prohibit dangerous actions such as chokeholds, strangleholds, binding hands and feet together, holding facedown, stress positions, etc. Force should never be deployed as “punishment” for perceived disrespect, yelling, or verbal confrontation, and high speed chases or shooting at a person attempting to flee should be prohibited. 
  • Punish and prosecute officers who perpetrate violence. Right now, police officers who shoot or kill people almost always get away with it. The lack of accountability leads to a sense that police officers can act with impunity, without professional or legal repercussions. At a minimum, any officer who discharges his or her firearm should be immediately suspended until a full, independent investigation has occurred and the officer has received mental health evaluation and treatment. Officers who hurt or kill people without clear, objective justification under heightened use of force standards should be fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 
  • Train and require officers to intervene when another officer is at risk of using excessive force, and fire officers who fail to do so and are thus complicit in police brutality. Breaking up the “blue wall of silence” that protects fellow law enforcement officers at the expense of the public is essential to greater accountability and community safety. To change the culture, good police officers need to know that their department leadership and peers will “have their back” if they stand up to an abusive or violent officer.  
  • In 2013, Wisconsin became the first state to require that so-called “officer-involved” fatal shootings must be investigated by an independent body, such as the Wisconsin Department of Justice. In many instances, however, there may still be a real or perceived conflict of interest. In such cases, the community oversight board should request investigation by another independent law enforcement agency.  
  • Decriminalize poverty and substance use disorder. Too often, law enforcement resources are directed against low-value offenses such as loitering, public alcohol consumption, and cannabis use — behaviors that people of all races engage in but are much more frequently punished when people of color engage in them. This racially targeted law enforcement helps drive massive racial disparities in our criminal justice system. 
  • End the militarization of police. Prohibit local law enforcement units from buying or receiving surplus military equipment, including tanks, riot gear, and heavy weaponry. Do not allow local police departments to engage in military-style actions such as “no-knock” raids, or donning military garb for law enforcement tasks. 
  • As the City of Madison does, require all new police officers to have 4 year college degrees and specific, detailed training in implicit bias, de-escalation, bystander intervention, cultural competency, and mental health. 
  • Dramatically expand mental health units to be the first line of response to people experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis. In these instances, compassionate professionals highly trained in mental health will be safer and more effective than an intimidating armed response.  
  • Institute clear community control of police, including diverse perspectives and voices of those disproportionately harmed by police actions. Give the community boards the power to set policy and consult in the hiring of leadership. Police officers are supposed to be civilian peace officers who serve and help communities, but all too often, they end up “policing,” as an active verb, communities of color. Until we can all participate meaningfully in deciding how we want law enforcement to serve our communities, many officers will continue to default to control.  
  • Allow communities to reinstate residency requirements for law enforcement officers. When Republican legislators pre-empted Milwaukee’s requirement that city employees be city residents, it exacerbated racial segregation and a dynamic where police officers moved to largely white, more conservative suburbs while coming in to largely Black or Latino neighborhoods in which they had no stake and few relationships. 
  • Expose and end racial profiling. Collect and report statistics, including the race or perceived race, on all police interactions including traffic stops, regardless of whether they involve an arrest or detainment. Prohibit police harassment and ineffective tactics such as “stop and frisk.” Require that all substantiated instances of police violence and inappropriate weapons use be reported to the state Department of Justice and be open to the public, and to the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection Initiative, so that officers with a history of violence or inappropriate use of force are not able to move from department to department. Ensure police departments that engage in racial profiling or excessive force are investigated by the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and subject to ongoing oversight.  
  • End qualified immunity. Make it clear that law enforcement officers that engage in misconduct will not be shielded from civil lawsuits simply because of their status as public employees.
  • Reform police unions. Collective bargaining is important for employees to have a voice in the workplace, and to ensure that workers earn fair wages and benefits. Yet unfortunately, many police unions have used their collective bargaining power to exempt officers from accountability, allowing abusive officers to continue working and preventing meaningful civilian oversight. Police are given a state monopoly on the use of force. They should not be also given the power to set public policy governing the use of that force, hide it from public view, or otherwise dictate disciplinary practices.
  • Establish ongoing truth and reconciliation commissions in communities across the state, to reckon with our violent past and present, and the pervasive harm that white supremacist systems continue to do to BIPOC communities. These community-based processes use principles of restorative justice to acknowledge harms, seek understanding, develop collaborative steps to repair harms, and move towards healing. 

Ultimately, reforms such as these will not only improve the lives of people of color, but they will improve the professionalism, safety, and effectiveness of our law enforcement departments, which cannot function effectively without the trust and cooperation of the communities they serve. Police departments that earn high levels of trust from community members will be safer and better at presenting and solving crimes. Neighborhoods and families that have the resources they need to live will thrive and create the safe communities that most middle- and upper-middle class people already enjoy. Everyone will benefit from greater public safety.