When Will We Get Reform of Police?
State government has done little, police union threatened us, but we’re still pushing for change.
This week marked the one year anniversary of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. Jacob was shot seven times in the back while his children watched from the backseat of his car. This week also marks the one year anniversary of a 17-year-old white supremacist (who’s name I refuse to say) who was driven across state lines, armed with an AR-15 like gun and caught on video killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and injuring another protester after Jacob’s shooting.
It’s been a tough year. It’s tough even writing these words a year later. Our communities were still grieving from the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and then another viral video of a Black person being shot by police was filmed in our own backyard.
Black organizers were on edge. We still are. Many of us are working through trauma and grief while trying to organize for a better world. Just imagine how difficult that is — not just in the Black community: BIPOC ( Black, Indigenous, People of Color) organizers do it every day. The issues we organize around are already deeply personal to us, but this year hits different. It cuts deep.
On Monday, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) Kenosha organizer Kyle Johnson spoke at an event commemorating the Blake shooting anniversary and said, “There’s victory in defiance.” I’ve been sitting on those words since I heard them. It’s a year later, and on the one hand, it feels like we are far from any sort of victory. But the fact that we are still here fighting is a victory in and of itself. I don’t share this often, but this last year and a half, I’ve really questioned how I continue to show up in this moments. I’ve questioned if I am up to the challenge.
I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.
The future not only feels bleak, but sometimes it feels non-existent due to imminent threats and the targets on our back. BLOC organized around the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission meeting back in May, where they would be voting on making an exception to a chokehold ban. The ban ultimately passed unanimously without any exceptions, but we were threatened by the police union. The Milwaukee Police Association president said “If they feel that we can go after them, I’m going after them. I’m going after the FPC, I’m going after anybody who supported chokehold bans…”
There he was, just publicly, and openly threatening community members and organizers who dared to fight for their dignity and lives. The Milwaukee Police Association has become so comfortable with harming and hurting our community that they don’t even try to hide it anymore. Organizers like us do our work with these things lingering over us like a dark cloud. We’ve had to have lifestyle changes in order to stay safe. We have safety plans in case of an emergency. But ultimately, the work continues, because it just has to. Unfortunately, the killings don’t stop. In Milwaukee, there were three more people killed by the police over the past week and a half. (I had to edit the number to reflect the killing shortly before this column was published because there was another one Thursday night.) And many more in the last year.
Rep. David Bowen spoke at the same event that Kyle spoke at and mentioned how a lot of us didn’t know each other one year ago, but now have this bond because we are fighting for something bigger than ourselves. I acknowledge that there is beauty in struggle, if you look hard enough. I’ve been lucky to build with some of the best and brightest minds. In darkness, they have been my light.
Many of our lives have changed in the last year and a half, but what policy has changed? How are we making sure that Black and Indigenous people aren’t murdered at the hands of the police in a form of state sanctioned violence? You would expect that state sanctioned violence would warrant swift action. Instead, we’ve been met with silence, passive aggressiveness and empty policy.
We’ve marched, we’ve protested, we’ve asked politely, we’ve had private discussions, we took out a full page ad in a newspaper. We literally banged on doors in the Capitol, but everything feels like we are talking and the mic is off. People pretend to not hear us, or even worse, they dismiss us. They dismiss us as if our lives aren’t as valuable as the next political fight on their minds. The fact that we pour our heart and soul into this while our families are being threatened, shows that we understand the sense of urgency. We don’t have days to wait. Our families and loved ones are being snatched from us daily.
So far, the Legislature and the governor’s office would rather play ping pong with our futures and our lives than to act. We’ve had a year of platitudes and facades from our own elected officials. State sanctioned violence and police accountability, honestly, shouldn’t be a political issue. Everyone wants to be safe. Everyone wants to dream of a future where we all live and thrive. Wisconsinites can agree with that — should be able to agree on that — no matter what party you identify with. We should be striving to live in a world where everyone can feel safe in our own beds, in our homes, in our cars, in our own bodies. The scourge of white supremacy has caused us to turn a blind eye towards our fellow human beings for the sake of what is “politically safe.”
So here I am: I’m appealing to everyone’s moral authority. We need ACTUAL solutions. Solutions like the Enough is Enough package of 12 bills authored by Democratic Reps. Bowen and Francesca Hong aimed at creating meaningful criminal justice and police reform. We need an ACTUAL community centered process, one that doesn’t involve elected officials who trashed the process via email — as Republican Majority Leader Jim Steineke did in an email obtained under the open record law that suggested setting up the racial task force for political cover — or anyone in law enforcement.
Over the last year, I’ve watched many of you all claim to be allies at this moment. What does it mean to be an ally in this moment? It’s doing the right thing despite your being comfortable in your own privilege. It’s leaning into the discomfort. It’s speaking truth to power. It’s centering Black lives over your own political or personal ambitions. It’s fulfilling promises that you ran on, Gov. Tony Evers.
The organization I lead, BLOC, has been very clear on our frustration and disappointment with both the Legislature and the governor. The Legislature had a sham of a Racial Task Force that was created disingenuously by Steineke and Speaker Robin Vos. No real substance came out of that task force. The leaked email mentioned above showed how they really felt, and yet we’re supposed to settle with what came out of it.
Gov. Evers, in his statement marking the one year anniversary of the Blake shooting, said, “This is only the beginning. We must remain resolved in addressing the systemic racism and inequities Black Wisconsinites face every day and to continue our work toward a just, equitable, and fair state.”
Well Gov. Evers, I agree with you. And that’s what I do every day, with every breath, every fiber of my being. The Legislature is tasked with voting on, and passing the Enough is Enough package, but that’s just the start, and they haven’t even started with that yet.
LOC has been calling on a completely new process. We are calling on the governor to launch his own process. We can’t all acknowledge how much of a farce the speaker’s task force was, and then not take action. Stop with the “Angela is angry.” I hear the “Angela is the angry Black woman” unspoken in those comments. While I personally have internalized a lot of the challenges this has brought on in recent months, it’s never been about me. Our community has been angry. Our community in this state has been angry. It’s bigger than our group, BLOC.
This is a moment where people can look back on and say they were on the right side of history.
This is a moment to stand with our communities before asking us to stand with you next fall at election time.
Our community depends on it, and quite frankly, so does this state.
So we’ll continue to be defiant … and victorious. Every day that we exist in our own bodies is an act of resistance and defiance to the status quo. Now here’s the question for you to answer: What will you do to defy and dismantle the status quo of white supremacy?
Angela Lang is the Founder and Executive Director of BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing for Communities) an organization dedicated to organizing and building political power in the African American Community. Prior to that she served in senior organizing roles for SEIU and For our Future.
There’s victory in defiance was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner.