Growing up Black or brown, cops were never strangers. Some were friendly. Some weren’t. There was this innate fear of what could happen. There was always this possibility where you could talk too much for their liking. Maybe your water gun wasn’t brightly colored enough. Maybe you did absolutely nothing wrong. I’m not going to tell you whether this fear many share is valid or not. I’m just going to tell you what you already subconsciously know. Whether you’re for Black Lives Matter or for Blue “Lives” Matter, you have to acknowledge that there’s a clear divide between Black people and cops.
Madison is a decent place. There’s a lot of love in this city. There’s Ian’s Pizza, the university and a generally pretty unified community. Madison, however, is no different from anywhere else. There are incidents of police brutality. Whether you believe the shootings are always justified, sometimes justified or never justified — they happen. It’s this vicious cycle that Madison, like every other city, is used to. In instances like potential drug overdoses or mental health crises we call 911 and cops will show up.
The problem with this is that in the six months of training it takes to become a police officer, they aren’t uniquely qualified to deal with these issues. They aren’t social workers, EMTs or anyone else qualified to deal with these situations. When these situations arise and the police show up, escalation can happen quickly. The problem here is that police officers have weapons that can shoot and kill, but they are also rarely prosecuted when they do so.
CAHOOTS is a program that started in Eugene, Oregon. Here, during these types of crises, they send a team of professionals to handle the situation. They don’t have weapons and they enforce public safety. About a year ago, MPD set preliminary plans for a program modeled similarly to CAHOOTS. They announced this plan with no date in sight. Almost a year later, I reached out to them to inquire about updates. They responded with a broad message about the planning and preparation this plan needs. They did, however, give an updated estimate of starting this program later this year.
There is great optimism to see this plan out. The people of Madison will most likely be better for it. However, there must be a great deal of skepticism that comes with this. Holding police officers accountable must happen first. Pressuring the city to release new details and to promise a deadline is a start. During this turbulent time for all of the United States, we need some answers. We can’t let the city of Madison think for one moment that we aren’t still here fighting for progress. We need city officials to speak to everyone who lives here with respect and candor. We need transparency in our local government and police department.
Moreover, we cannot forget everyone who has had a traumatic experience with MPD. The mistrust in the Black community runs deeply and rightfully so. Failing to address this community honestly is MPD’s most notorious failure. Wounds have yet to be healed and it is on the city of Madison to make these wrongs right, especially now. With that, we must move forward with the next steps for the new mental health program.