We were glad when Madison School Board member Ali Muldrow apologized last week for a Facebook post in which she wrote, “I think that it’s important to talk about what it is like for the students who are arrested at school and end up in the Dane county jail. We would not talk about the role of the Nazis and act as if the experiences people had in concentration camps is a separate issue.”
Muldrow’s initial post stirred considerable controversy. In a response to the board member, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney observed, “It’s unbelievable that anyone today would relate (the Madison Police Department) or any other Dane (County law enforcement agencies) to Nazis.”
Other reactions were blunter. There were even calls for resignation or removal from the board.
This newspaper endorsed Muldrow for the Madison School Board earlier this year, when she was elected with more than 70% of the vote. But we, too, were unsettled by the words she employed. Like the sheriff, we did not believe the comparison was credible. Additionally, we think that needed debates about policing, in the schools and the community, are undermined by controversies that distract from core concerns.
So we welcomed Muldrow’s response to the outcry. She issued a statement that began by addressing objections to casual references to Nazis and the atrocities they perpetuated — explaining that “no part of me … fails to recognize how seriously the suffering inflected by the Holocaust must be taken.”
In interviews, she also made a point of saying that she did not mean to insult law enforcement officers and people who work in the Dane County Jail, telling the Wisconsin State Journal, “I think that the people who serve as first responders, the people who work to keep our communities safe, deserve an incredible amount of respect.”
There are those who have tried to suggest that Muldrow’s apology was insufficient or insincere. We do not see it that way. She wrote that, “I take full responsibility for the impact of my statement. I am deeply sorry for the harm it caused people. I want nothing more than to be in solidarity with as we address the injustices of today. I am grateful to the people who have challenged me to consider the many different perspectives of our community as a means of pursuing greater understanding in the interests of unity.”
When she steered the discussion back to the issues that this community needs to consider, Muldrow struck a sound balance, writing that, “The conversation about juvenile incarceration and the disproportionate arrest of children with disabilities, LGBTQ+ youth, children living in poverty, and children of color at school, is a conversation I will continue to be committed to. My hope moving forward is that I will be able to apply the learning so many concerned and constructive community members have offered me to navigating this dialogue with utmost respect while striving for common ground.”
As a candidate and a board member, Muldrow has expressed concerns about the presence of Madison police officers, known as SROs, in Madison’s high schools. There are plenty of folks who agree with her, and plenty who disagree. But few would argue that debates about policing can or should be avoided in Madison, a community that has much work to do when it comes to equity and justice issues — in the schools and beyond their walls. Muldrow has offered a sincere apology and an indication that she’s prepared “to navigate this dialogue with utmost respect while striving for common good.” That’s a framework for moving forward that every sincere participant in these debates should be able to embrace.
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