May 25th, George Floyd, an African American citizen, was killed in police custody and repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” in the final moments of his life. This incident of police brutality brought together millions of people around the globe to call for social justice in Black Lives Matter protests
Both Floyd’s death and the protests were on the front page of newpapers across the country for weeks. Just as this wave of attention had begun to fade, the sound of seven shots from a white police officer in Kenosha into the back of another unarmed African American citizen, Jacob Blake, echoed back with a louder voice for social justice.
The shooting of Jacob Blake lead to another round of BLM protests, especially in Kenosha and Madison. In order to maintain public safety, Gov. Tony Evers deployed the state National Guard in Kenosha for crowd control.
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The deployment of the military and having the police in full riot gear aggravated protesters.
UW sophomore Emily Distler said that when she has gone to protests in Madison, “protesters are following curfews and remain[ing] peaceful. It is the police whose immediate response is to use full force and tear gas to anger the crowd and initiate the violence.”
“Police are turning peaceful protesters into a violent crowd by initiating the use of force,” Megan Gahart, a UW student who witnessed protests in Kenosha, said.
George Floyd, Jacob Blake and many others have been victims of police brutality and systematic racism.
Back in April, when crowds protested Evers’ extension of the Safer at Home order, showing up at the Madison Capitol Square holding assault rifles, the police did nothing. When BLM protesters went to protests unarmed on State Street, they were met with police in full tactical gear, including riot shields and tear gas.
Important to note, most protesters at the reopen Wisconsin rally were white while BLM protesters have been a mix of races. When police are present to protect public safety, we should be asking this question — who and what are they protecting?
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It is absolutely appalling to see that 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a white supremacist and fascist, walked past the police carrying an illegal weapon and was able to go home and sleep after committing two counts of murder and injuring another using an assault rifle.
In many violent clashes, the police are more concerned about protecting property, the privileged and white supremacists than protecting the innocent, often marginalized, people who they are supposed to serve.
The Wisconsin legislature should mandate body cameras for police. The Kenosha Police Department does not have a single body cam, yet it has a $30 million annual budget.
This lack of body camers leaves out details that the public needs inorder to understand what exactly happened when shootings occur. This lack of evidence also allows the police to not to hold their colleagues accountable when they step out of line.
Transparency should be mandatory for all Wisconsin police departments by requiring body cams for officers, using objective third-party investigations on incidents and releasing incident reports or footage to the public to prevent more tragedies from happening.
Consultant and facilitator in diversity, equity and inclusion training within the UW community Gautam Jayanthi said, “if the bystander did not record what happened to Jacob Blake, he might just be another unfortunate statistic.”
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Another solution the Wisconsin lawmakers should explore is to ban the use of tear gas. Tear gas is a chemical weapon, which was banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.
Tear gas induces damage to respiratory systems and organs, even causing death under extreme circumstances.It is too extreme to use against protesters.
Another important option to explore is defunding the police. Defunding the police would not mean we wouldn’t have police at all. It means reallocating funds from the police department to healthcare, education, social welfare and other community resources.
When asked what defunding the police would look like, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, said “it looks like a suburb … affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing … more than they fund the police.”
Mandatory body cams and banning the use of tear gas will be a step in the right direction. Though, there is still a long way to go for the police to complete its reform and to recognize the structural racism within its current system.
Ken Wang ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.