Solidarity with Freedom Inc.

by Katherine Scott for Madison Tenant Power

Across the world, people are rising up in response to the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (and Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks and Toyin Salau and … ). Statues of slavers and tyrants are falling, and cities have begun dissolving or slashing funding to their corrupt and violent police departments.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion columnist Daniel Bice seems to have missed the memo. He recently wrote an op-ed calling for the state of Wisconsin to defund Madison nonprofit Freedom Inc. Their crime? Leading the Black Lives Matter protests in Madison.

The organization’s leaders aren’t just within their rights to speak out and advocate for government change: they’re fulfilling their obligation to speak up for the vulnerable populations they serve.

Freedom Inc. provides domestic violence counseling, education, and leadership programs for Black and Southeast Asian women, children, and LGBTQ communities. Bice doesn’t argue that Freedom Inc. does valuable work, and does it well. He’s just angry that the nonprofit’s leaders are outspoken about racism. In fact, he’s furious that Freedom Inc.’s leaders consider Black lives more important than a little broken glass.

But there’s nothing “radical” about Freedom Inc.’s support of prison abolition or defunding the police department if you believe that Black lives matter. The organization’s leaders aren’t just within their rights to speak out and advocate for government change: they’re fulfilling their obligation to speak up for the vulnerable populations they serve. They’re living out their mission.

Spending money on Black and brown Wisconsinites will always annoy people like Bice, but in this op-ed, he can’t even get his facts straight. The “$3.6 million over 5 years” number he tosses around breaks down to $720,000 per year, a normal operating budget for a nonprofit of its size. 

And Bice is wrong that it’s state money: though the state has a say in the way the grants are allocated, Freedom Inc. receives its funding from Violence Against Women (VAWA) and Victim of Crime grants, which are federal programs.

But Bice isn’t really here to quibble over funding — he’s just looking for a way to criticize Black Lives Matter without saying the quiet part out loud. Just look at another recent op-ed attacking Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley for supporting the protests. Crowley, the first Black county executive, didn’t support Milwaukee curfews and refused to appear with Mayor Tom Barrett. 

“You get the sense that Crowley, had he not been elected county exec, would be helping to lead the protests,” writes Bice, as though Crowley’s support for the safety of his friends, family, and constituents would be something to be ashamed of. 

Bice is bringing out the old dog whistle: he’s not willing to say that he doesn’t believe Black lives matter, so he’s attacking its leaders for being unruly, insubordinate, not respectable enough. He doesn’t care that eliminating Freedom Inc. would undermine Black and brown communities in the most segregated state in America. Bice can frame it however he likes, but his attack is racist, plain and simple.

Freedom Inc. courageously lives out its mission by leading the fight against racism and injustice. Our entire community benefits from its efforts. It deserves more public funding, not less. Madison Tenant Power stands in solidarity with Freedom Inc.

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