Madison isn’t Ferguson

Madison is deeply divided racially. I’ve written before about the chasm separating whites from African-Americans in our city and county. You can follow some of those posts and sermons here. The Race to Equity report from 2013 lays out the details and is a must read. It’s available here: WCCF-R2E-Report

The contrasts are especially striking when it comes to the criminal justice system. While arrest rates for African-Americans in general, and African-American juveniles are down over the last decades, they remain considerably higher than those of whites and of the national averages. For example, in 2010, the arrest rate for African-American juveniles was 469 per 1000; for white juveniles it was 77. Nationally among the same age group, the rates were 71 per 1000 for African-Americans, 33 for whites. Although African-Americans account for only 9% of Dane County’s youth, they make up 80% of those sentenced to Wisconsin’s juvenile correctional facility. In 2012,43% of the new adult prison population were African-American men, while they account for only 4.8% of the county’s total population. More information on these statistics is available here.

But it’s important to note the significant differences as well.  Perhaps those differences are best exemplified by the response of the city’s leadership to Tony Robinson’s death. Both Mayor Soglin and Chief Koval were on the scene of the shooting Friday night. Michael Johnson, head of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Madison, took Chief Koval to meet with Tony’s family that night where he prayed with them. In his press conference on Saturday, Koval refused to comment on Robinson’s background. There’s an informative piece on Chief Koval here.

There’s another difference. The shooting did not take place in some strip mall in the suburbs or in a primarily African-American neighborhood. It took place on Williamson (Willy) Street, close to downtown and in the heart of Madison’s eastside, most progressive neighborhood. It really is quite jarring to drive down Willy St. as we did yesterday on our way to visit friends. As you drive past the artisanal butcher shops, bakeries, and shops, you suddenly see four or five police cruisers, police tape blocking the sidewalk. Just as quickly, the site recedes from your rear-view mirror. The wound in our social fabric won’t disappear so easily.

The response from the community has been remarkable. The engagement of African-American leadership, clergy, politicians, and ordinary folks has already made a difference. There is anger, yes. There is grief and mourning. But there is also renewed commitment to work on our city’s problems, to work toward solutions, so that Madison can become one of American’s “most livable cities,” not just for whites, but for everyone.

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