Led by President Sheri Carter, the Madison City Council created a task force at its meeting Tuesday that will address critical issues facing the Black community.
The task force will not be charged with shaping the ongoing work implementing police accountability measures — a civilian review board and independent monitor — as Carter’s original resolution stated.
Currently, a three-member alder work group is laying the logistical, legal and financial groundwork behind implementing the board and independent monitor position.
“This resolution had nothing to do with stopping the alders' work group from doing their jobs,” Carter, who represents District 14, said. “I also feel that my community needs a safe place to talk about whatever they want to talk about when it comes to policy.”
Carter introduced the task force last month and said at the time that the mission of the group is to bring members of the Black community “front and center” in discussing issues disproportionately facing them, such as police practices and other inequities.
As outlined in the adopted resolution creating the task force, the group will review Madison’s policies as they relate to policing, health, affordable housing, economic development, gentrification, and any barriers affecting the African American community.
The task force will be staffed by Kwasi Obeng, the City Council’s chief of staff, and work with a deadline of Dec. 30.
Conflict over civilian oversight
Under Carter’s original proposal, the task force would have been charged with identifying community organizations to submit nominations for police civilian review board members and creating a timeline, process for proposals and action items that relate to the board, monitor and other policies before the City Council where the “African American voice needs to be elevated as the population that is most impacted.”
However, these items were criticized as attempts to undermine the progress of the work group.
“As currently written, this resolution would derail the work expeditiously setting up the independent monitor and civilian oversight board,” said Greg Gelembiuk, a former member of an ad hoc committee that recommended implementing the civilian review mechanisms. “It’s duplicative, and it would create a serious conflict of roles.”
Ald. Samba Baldeh, District 17, proposed amendments that were ultimately adopted by the Council removing references to the civilian review mechanisms. Instead, Baldeh’s amendment called for discussions and actions on police reform.
Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, called the conflict over Carter’s proposal a “false narrative.” Though she and Carter opposed the way in which the three-member alder work was created, Harrington-McKinney said she supports the group’s work.
Harrington-McKinney said the resolution creating the president’s task force was not intended to undermine the civilian oversight initiatives or disrupt the work group.
“This resolution as intended is the convening of Black organizations and leaders to come together to promote Black issues and to discuss matters that affect the Black community,” Harrington-McKinney said.
Carter also amended the original resolution to remove the names of specific organizations that the task force’s members would represent. The original list included the NAACP, 100 Black Men organization, Charles Hamilton Foundation, African American Council of Churches, Urban League, Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County and the Black Leadership Council.
Carter, who will appoint task force members to be confirmed by the City Council, said “nobody is excluded from this task force.”
Freedom Inc., a local nonprofit engaged around policing issues in Madison, was not included on the original list.
“Not only are we front line workers in terms of protest work and responding to harm and violence in our communities, we’re also the thought leaders and experts on these issues,” M Adams, co-executive director of Freedom, Inc., said. “In terms of being an expert, It feels like our work is completely overlooked.”
Mental health first responder pilot
The City Council also took a step toward creating a mental health first responder program by requesting that Dane County Criminal Justice Council work with the Madison Fire Department and Community Development office to research and develop an implementation plan.
In the United States, about 3% of adults suffer from a severe mental illness but make up between 25% and 50% of all fatal law enforcement encounters, according to the resolution. Many residents are only able to access emergency care and are unable to follow up with needed services.
The Dane County Criminal Justice Council’s Behavioral Health Subcommittee focuses on the intersection of behavioral health conditions and the criminal justice system in Dane County and has the ability to study on how a Mental Health First Responder pilot program could be implemented.
The subcommittee has previously heard presentations on intervention models used in other cities, including the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon. This program aims to intervene in situations that would otherwise be handled by public safety or emergency medical response.
An implementation plan is expected to be complete Oct. 15.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.
Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!
Stay up-to-date on the latest in local and national government and political topics with our newsletter.