‘What you see happening in Madison are people who are fed up’; In open letter, youth leader Michael Johnson calls for leadership, action

Michael Johnson File640
Michael Johnson

MADISON, Wis. — A Dane County youth leader shared a list of action items he said can help lead Madison move forward on school, policing and business initiatives during the recent civil and racial unrest in the city.

CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County Michael Johnson shared an open letter Wednesday offering his thoughts on solutions during a time of violent unrest in Madison; a time when he said leadership is lacking.

“People are being arrested, statutes are being torn down, businesses are at a critical pathway and black people are hurting more now than ever,” Johnson wrote. “Where is our collective leadership and response?”

On Tuesday, the controversial arrest of a Black activist outside a Madison restaurant across from the state Capitol sparked protests that turned violent. Wisconsin state Sen. Tim Carpenter said he was attacked by protesters, a motorist on John Nolen Drive was beaten and robbed by protesters, two Capitol square statues were torn down and a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the City-County Building, officials said.

Ccb Photo Protestors Via Parisi 1280

A firebomb tossed through windows of the City-County Building landed near Dane County’s 911 Center, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’s office said Wednesday.

PHOTOS: Protesters tear down statues near Wisconsin State Capitol, damage state, city buildings

“What you see happening in Madison are people who are fed up — who are marginalized, experiencing unaddressed trauma, poverty, and experiencing a lack of economic opportunities in under-resourced communities,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson said that leadership is lacking, and offered that possibly leaders are afraid to speak up because it might be uncomfortable to do so.

“There are so many wonderful leaders in this community and we are missing in so many ways. I believe some of us are afraid to speak our minds because it might put us in uncomfortable positions and conversations.,” he said. “I also witnessed and directly experienced people tearing folks down viciously, being disrespectful while many of us with influence and power sit quietly. Our city needs you and our collective leadership is needed more now than ever!”

In the letter, Johnson said he wants Madisonians to “use our collective voices to guide and offer solutions on how we move forward.”

Johnson offered 10 actions to consider taking to enhance racial equity in Madison related to policing, business, incarceration and schools:

  1. Divert $8.6M or 10% of the Madison Police Department’s budget to community policing, mental health services and community policing strategies to be managed by black led organizations who are culturally competent, including grass root groups and other communities of color.
  2. Hire 10 peer support coaches and parent outreach officers at every high school and remove police officers from schools.
  3. Set aside $30M endowment as a public/private partnerships to help black Madisonians start businesses in Dane County and to help purchase homes.
  4. Hire 1,000 youth this summer and in the fall for paid internships at $20 an hour for five hours a week to give them practical work experience and diversify executive-level positions in Dane County across all sectors.
  5. Stop defunding public schools and lobby for legislation to support targeted programs for underperforming students who traditionally don’t do academically well in Madison.
  6. Create an endowed fund to subsidize state funding to ensure preschool is free for all children in Dane County.
  7. Create a public safety officer position that will report to a community policing oversight board that would manage resources and work with community organizers on issues that impact their neighborhoods.
  8. Release nonviolent offenders in Dane County Jail on signature bonds and seek other forms of rehabilitation.
  9. Provide a mental health therapist for families at every community center and homeless shelters and use federal pass-through dollars to support this effort.
  10. Meet with the youth organizers, Madison Police Department and bring philanthropists together to finalize a plan and move Madison Wisconsin forward in an effort to close and fund racial disparities in our community.

Republican legislators gathered outside of the Capitol building Wednesday morning and denounced the Tuesday night actions of protesters and the lack of action from Gov. Tony Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.

Rhodes-Conway said in a statement Wednesday that what happened was “far from peaceful and exceeding dangerous.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi called Tuesday night’s protest “heartbreaking” and said “misguided actions of a few jeopardized people’s safety and well-being.”

Evers also said Wednesday morning that he was prepared to activate the National Guard to protect state properties.