Madison, WI, Monday, March 9, 2015
There is nothing good about Tony Robinson’s death. But if we act now, intelligently and with compassion, something good may come out of this tragedy.
There are plenty of possible responses that we could have as individuals and as a community, but I’d like to focus on what city government can and should do — especially the mayor and city council.
The first thing they should do is form a “blue ribbon commission” whose members represent a true cross-section of community stakeholders. That commission should be charged with reviewing a whole range of city policies — use of force, yes, but also how we deal with mental illness and drug and alcohol use, how we set fines for different violations, how we train police officers and support them throughout their careers, what behaviors we reward with promotion, and more.
This commission should certainly look at what other progressive cities are doing, and the city should consider contracting for an independent review to supplement the commission’s work. The commission should make recommendations for continuing citizen oversight on safety and policing issues, including how to invigorate the public safety review committee. Everything should be on the table for discussion — not because we don’t support the police or because we want to change everything, but because our community will be stronger if we all have a chance to educate ourselves and discuss the issues.
In the medium term, our elected leaders and city staff should redouble their efforts to make sure that city employees — especially the police department and especially management positions — represent the diversity of our community. They should expand the use of the equity tool to more departments and more decisions. They should draw on the best science and institute training to counter implicit bias for all employees, especially those who work with the public. And they should revisit the question of residency requirements at the bargaining table — we need our already excellent city staff to have the level of understanding and commitment that comes from living where you work.
In the long term, the city needs to double down on its work to close the racial opportunity and achievement gaps. This means continued investment in affordable housing and transit, but also a larger focus on workforce development and connecting training to jobs. It means looking at energy efficiency, local food, and childcare — but also how to support entrepreneurship in communities of color. It means revamping our community services funding process to be more effective and focused. It means being more proactive about where — and what kind — of development we want. And perhaps more importantly, it means listening to and supporting community leaders of color — and getting more of them appointed and elected into local government.
Nothing can take away the pain of Mr. Robinson’s death, and we must take the time to mourn him. But we must also seize this opportunity to make our community a better, safer and more equitable place.