This past weekend, as you might have noticed, my home city of Madison made national news once more, and for tragic reasons. On Friday night, a young unarmed black man was shot to death by a white police officer on the east side of town, Williamson Street. As far as I can tell from the news coverage (Madison.com and channel3000.com are good sources for local news), the public response has been peaceful and grief-stricken. So far the chief of police has been fairly restrained in his comments and promised a thorough and transparent investigation.
What a terrible thing to happen. I'm sure some people felt shock at the news and wonder how something like this could happen in our city, but I think it was probably just a matter of time. I know that Wisconsin is one of the worst (if not the worst) states to reside in if you're a black male in terms of poverty and graduation and incarceration rates. We also have the widest achievement gap in the nation between whites and minorities, and that gap is even wider in Dane County. There has been hand-wringing and numerous calls to action, but not a whole lot has been accomplished. We have a long way to go. Is it any surprise, then, that what happened in Ferguson, MO also happened here?
What I hope is different about Madison is the response of the police chief and the public. I don't mean to be naive but I do believe a lot of people (not all of them) here care about making our city a safe community for everyone. We want to acknowledge the diversity of our city without being fearful of minorities. We also want to trust the police.
As a citizen, I'm not entirely sure what I can do to make a difference. I will talk to my kids about what happened. I may take my kids to one of the peaceful demonstrations this coming week (assuming everyone is well - it's been a rough few days of illness here). And I will pay close attention to the response and aftermath of this terrible tragedy. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to make things better.