The Abolitionist Working Group of the Madison Area Democratic Socialists of America (MADSA) stands in solidarity with victims of police violence and in rage against the Prison Industrial Complex1 as we process the guilty verdict from the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd nearly a year ago. While this verdict succeeds in holding Chauvin accountable for the lethal act of violence he committed, it is an anomaly in officer-involved shooting incidents and we must reject claims that it provides justice2. Justice would mean that George Floyd would still be alive.
Justice would mean that Black and brown people could live their lives without the constant fear of being killed by police. American policing, known globally for its racist terror and violence, is incompatible with justice. If we consider the history of police in the U.S., this becomes even more clear. Modern policing can be traced back to slave patrols created in the seventeenth century to enforce slave codes, the laws explicitly designed to control and subjugate enslaved people3. Throughout the next few centuries, these laws have taken new forms – Black Codes, Jim Crow, Stop and Frisk, etc. – and the former slave patrols morphed into a system of policing and mass incarceration intended to protect property and capital while disproportionately criminalizing Black and brown people. With this history in mind, it is clear that convicting Derek Chauvin of murder does not provide justice. Justice looks like abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex. A system built with incentives to incarcerate Black and Indigenous peoples is not a system worth preserving or defending.
George Floyd’s murder is just one example of systemic police brutality, yet as of this writing, U.S. police officers have killed 352 people in 20214. Since Derek Chauvin’s trial began on March 29, police have killed at least 64 people5 and perpetuated an untold, unrecorded amount of trauma on the communities they interact with each day. By no means is Chauvin the exception, nor is he just a “bad apple” cop.
Here in Madison, a so-called “progressive” city, the police continue to use excessive force and perpetuate racism and classism with absolute impunity. In March of 2015, Madison police officer Matt Kenny shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson. Despite widespread protests and calls for accountability, Matt Kenny faced no charges and is still employed by the Madison Police Department (training new officers, no less) more than six years later. The only action Robinson’s family could take was through civil court and they received a $3.35 million settlement from the city of Madison. . Madison police officers have killed two additional people, Paul Heenan and Ashley DiPiazza, in the last ten years. Settlements pass off the cost of police brutality onto taxpayers, without providing real accountability for the violence taking place at the hands of police or the trauma experienced by victims and their families and communities.
These three incidents have cost taxpayers nearly $13 million in settlements and have increased the cost of the city’s insurance.6 Worst of all, MPD has not admitted to any wrongdoing in any of these cases. The Dane County District Attorney, Ismael Ozanne, declined to charge the officers involved in all three cases, to the disappointment and outrage of the greater community. Instead of seeking to address the systemic issues that led to these shootings, the city has continued to increase MPD’s budget. From 2015 to 2020, MPD’s operating budget increased by $18.5 million, a 27.1% increase that mostly provided for increased salaries and benefits.7 Why does our city reward its most dysfunctional (and deadly) department with an ever-increasing budget?
We recognize Chauvin’s indictment would not have been possible if it was not for the mass mobilization of the Black Lives Matter uprising.
In a similarly outrageous use of taxpayer dollars, the Dane County Board of Supervisors have pushed through an expensive project to build a new Dane County Jail8. Despite widespread opposition from community leaders, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, and other county residents, the Board continues to increase funding for this project, which has exploded from $135 million in 2017 to $220 million in 2019. This project exemplifies the city’s unwillingness to confront systemic issues at the root. Instead of investing in community services to reduce poverty and cycles of harm, which would ultimately reduce the need for space in the existing jail, the Board is using our money to build new cages for MPD to fill with people. Many of the people in the Dane County Jail have not yet faced trial and are being held simply because they couldn’t afford to pay cash bail, despite the fact that they are presumed innocent. And as one might expect, the racial wealth gap and segregation here in Dane County means that disproportionate numbers of Black people occupy the existing jail. A new jail will only serve to increase these disparities and perpetuate cycles of harm in our communities8.
We recognize Chauvin’s indictment would not have been possible if it was not for the mass mobilization of the Black Lives Matter uprising. It is important to acknowledge that the rights that Black and brown people, women, workers, LGBTQ+, Indigenous people, and immigrants have today were marched and fought for in the streets, courts, city halls, and in Congress. Rights are wrested from the powerful through civil disobedience, not freely bestowed by a benevolent state. The movement for Black lives is a continuation of the struggle towards greater liberation and a truly just society.
Abolition is a queer Black feminist vision, and as such we call on our comrades to support Freedom Inc, who have requested that Madison residents take the following actions:
- Fill out the People’s Budget Survey to give your input on how the city should be spending its money: http://bit.ly/MadisonPeople2021
- Sign the petition to defund the Madison Police Department: http://change.org/DefundPoliceMadisonWI
- Sign up to volunteer with Freedom Inc mutual aid: http://bit.ly/FreedomMutualAid
- Follow Freedom Inc, Urban Triage, and Party for Socialism & Liberation to support more Black and queer led organizing efforts in Madison
- Show up with your dollars – give to Freedom Inc: https://freedom-inc.org/index.php?page=Support-Us
The Abolitionist Working Group of MADSA