The Janesville Gazette, June 26

It’s time to find answers to local racial disparities in policing

Local officials could take a lesson from a twist on this old business adage: You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

The Rock County criminal justice system is beginning to look at data showing how it treats Black people and other minorities differently from white people, but knowing there’s a difference isn’t enough. Officials need to expedite efforts to understand why it’s happening and what changes are needed.

That will require better data analysis.

The Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council recently looked at new data showing Black people here are more frequently arrested for disorderly conduct, which is considered a bellwether offense because officers have more discretion about whether to arrest for disorderly conduct than for other offenses.

Staff at The Gazette this week analyzed data provided by the Janesville Police Department, which revealed that Black kids in Janesville schools were cited, referred to juvenile authorities or arrested at a rate more than seven times that of other kids. Police and school officials admitted they hadn’t looked at the data in that way before.

Why so many more Black arrests?

Community member Harriet Everette raised the issue at a recent meeting of the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. She wanted to see data on charges filed by the district attorney’s office and decisions by judges broken down by variables such as race, gender or type of offense.

She was told county government lacks the systems for such analysis.

“Unfortunately, we’re the government,” District Attorney David O’Leary told her. “So we don’t have the data analysts or the data systems that the private sector does.”

Sorry, but we’re not buying it.

The county has options. It could, for example, contract with one of several companies Wisconsin has sprouted to analyze state court data for attorneys. The companies download in bulk the same data the public can access in a limited way through the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access program, commonly known as CCAP. The court data contains much of what would be necessary to find the kind of answers Harriet Everette and others want to see about the role race plays in our local criminal justice system.

Janesville police and school officials said it’s not clear to them why Black kids at schools are the subject of police actions so much more frequently than other kids.

“Schools are a reflection of the communities in which they reside, and so the problems that exist in any given community, whatever those may be, including racism, invariably end up manifesting themselves at school,” Janesville School District Superintendent Steve Pophal said.

Janesville Deputy Chief John Olsen said it’s difficult to draw conclusions about the numbers without looking at the details of each incident and knowing the history and background that led to each moment.

We don’t disagree with either statement, but it’s time to stop head-scratching and start finding answers because what’s happening is having long-lasting impacts on individuals.

Lonnie Brigham, who has worked with a citizens committee advising Janesville police on relations with Black people, called the school data “scary.”

“To me, that’s just a sad commentary on the school-to-prison pipeline,” he told The Gazette. “Because once these kids get a record, they are marked for life.”


The Capital Times, Madison, June 24

Urgent and necessary protest, not violence, is the way to achieve change in Madison, Wisconsin and the United States

No statue matters as much as a human life. No symbol matters as much as the ideals it represents.

This is point of beginning for responses to the violence that rocked Madison Tuesday night, when a state senator was attacked and historic statues were dragged from their pedestals.

Amid the anger and confusion on the morning following a chaotic night, the calm voice of Gov. Tony Evers resonated with Wisconsinites who know that the violence must end.

“What happened in Madison last night presented a stark contrast from the peaceful protests we have seen across our state in recent weeks, including significant damage to state property,” the governor said in a statement. “I want to be clear: violence against any person — whether in the middle of the street in broad daylight, at home trying to sleep, going for a run, or happening upon a protest as was the case last night — is wrong.”

Evers is right. The power of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience must be brought to bear in order to advance the cause of racial justice at a vital moment in the history of our city, our state and our nation. Law enforcement agencies can and must facilitate demonstrations that seek an end to police brutality in particular and systemic racism in general. At the same time, those same agencies must prevent violence that threatens safety, stirs backlash and distracts attention from issues that have for too long been neglected.

This is an essential understanding at a moment when, as the governor said, Wisconsinites “cannot allow ourselves to forget the reason why these protests began: because of the murder of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, of the many Black lives taken before them, and because racism and structural inequality still pervade this country. Our cause and our purpose must continue to be the pursuit of the promise of an equitable, just, and fair state and country, and we cannot delay delivering on these promises any longer.”

Unfortunately, that is easier said than done at a point when justified anger and understandable confusion can overwhelm people on all sides of a necessary debate about changing policing and addressing systemic racism.

The best way to navigate this moment is by focusing on the critical issues that have been raised by peaceful protests in recent weeks. To achieve that focus, the debate must move beyond a simplistic discussion on the statues at the state Capitol that became targets following the arrest Tuesday — following a disturbance in a downtown restaurant — of an activist who had been involved in demonstrations that have been ongoing since the George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police.

A crowd of several hundred rallied to protest the arrest outside the Dane County Courthouse and then marched on the Capitol. In the hours that followed, state Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, one of the most honorable members of the Legislature, was attacked. The “Forward” statue, a historic symbol of the cause of women’s rights and progressive change, and a statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg, a Norwegian immigrant who became a militant abolitionist and was killed in the Civil War, were toppled.

The statues have been recovered and should be restored to their places of honor. They speak to historic ideals of justice that need to be remembered and maintained. They should be joined by new statues that recognize those who brought those ideals into the 20th century, such as former state Rep. Lloyd Barbee, a courageous champion of civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s, and former Secretary of State Vel Phillips, a pioneering African American political leader.

But we should primarily concern ourselves with the 21st century. This is the moment in which Wisconsin must lead, once more, on behalf of economic and social and racial justice. There has to be a recognition of that broader purpose. Evers is on the right track. The same cannot be said for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who acknowledges that reforms are needed, even as he suggests that the Legislature might wait to act until after the November election. On Tuesday night, Vos and his Assembly Republicans were desperately maneuvering for political advantage — with tweets that jabbed at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Democratic state Senate candidate Nada Elmikashfi, the governor and officials in Madison.

Of course, there are disagreements about policy. Of course, there will be debates. Have them! But don’t use a heartbreaking night to try and score cheap political points. As Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said Wednesday morning, in sadness and disappointment over the assault on Sen. Carpenter, “We have a common purpose to bring justice where it has been long overdue and individuals can’t be reduced to collateral damage in the process, especially those on the proper side.”

This is not a time to play the political games that close hearts and minds. This is a time to make way for the idealism that once earned Wisconsin recognition as the nation’s “laboratory of democracy.” Protesters are right to demand that Wisconsin live up to its stated ideals. Those demands must be made urgently and effectively at a time when hearts and minds are open. Violence and destruction distracts from this necessary focus and narrows the discourse at a critical juncture when so very much is at stake.


The Journal Times of Racine, June 29

Full-time, in-person school must be an option

When Sept. 3 comes, it will have been 5½ months since students were last in school.

For many of them, it will have been 5½ months since they did any school work. For some students, it’s because teachers were not prepared to transfer to new online teaching technology. For others, it’s because their parents were not able to teach them at home — possibly because of work or myriad other reasons. Others have done work, but it doesn’t compare to what they would have learned in school.

Students are already behind where they are supposed to be. When September comes, schools need to physically reopen and welcome students back in.

If they don’t, our students will be even further behind. Students are already behind about a semester, push full school reopening to December and kids are pushed back practically a year.

And the achievement gap will only worsen.

If schools in Racine don’t open and others do, Racine’s students will be further behind.

While there have been 766 coronavirus-related deaths in Wisconsin, none have been for anyone ages 0-19, the Wisconsin State Health Department confirmed Friday.

Throughout the nation, there have been 96,200 coronavirus-related deaths, as of Friday, with age group information available for 95,853.

Of those, 1.7% were between the ages of 0-4. And 0.1% were ages 5-17.

When asked for the actual numbers, a CDC media representative stated in an email: “When we have additional information, we will do a deeper dive on that information.”

The representative then offered a link to an April 6 analysis that stated: “In this preliminary description of pediatric U.S. COVID-19 cases, relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized, and fewer children than adults experience fever, cough, or shortness of breath. Severe outcomes have been reported in children, including three deaths.”

That said, the impact of coronavirus remains a very real concern and it will be important to continue to offer virtual options, because every family’s situation is different. Maybe a parent has a preexisting condition. Maybe the family lives with an aging grandparent. Maybe the child himself or herself has health issues. We also concede that preparations for a temporary closure in the event of an outbreak must be made.

But as school and government officials weigh the options for fall, they need to realistically think about all the consequences.

How many moms and dads will have to give up their jobs because their employer cannot accommodate every other day off for a child’s virtual learning?

How far behind will the kids who are unable to learn remotely get?

Yes, virtual options should exist. But in-person school, five days a week, must to be an option.