One U.S. City’s Police Civilian Oversight Board Plays Identity Politics

Besides numerous riots, George Floyd’s death last year in Minneapolis ignited a demand from liberals for stricter oversight of police departments.

Some thought the way to do this was to defund or abolish the police altogether.

Notoriously liberal Madison, Wisconsin, opted to create a Police Civilian Oversight Board to try to monitor police and work to improve the relationship between cops and the community.

The issue, though, is the composition of the board.

Some in conservative media have pointed out recently that Madison seeks to block white city residents from having a voice on the board.

Newsweek magazine, which performed a “fact check” on this claim and rated it “false,” nonetheless provided some interesting insight into the critics’ assertion.

The board is comprised of 11 regular members and two alternates.

Newsweek quoted the city attorney, who noted that a city council resolution mandates that black residents fill at least six of the regular-member seats and those of both alternates.

Among the five remaining seats, the language of the implementing ordinance sets aside one each for an Asian-American, a “Latinx” American, a Native American, and a member of the LGBTQ community.

All of the prescribed seats are filled according to the city’s mandate.

The remaining seat is apparently filled by a white resident, the city attorney said.

Thus, Newsweek rated the circulating claim “false.”

“There is no language banning white people from sitting on the board; there is a white member on the board,” Newsweek sniffed.

“According to the municipal ordinance, there is no truth to the claim that white people are banned from the Madison Police Oversight Board. … According to the ordinance, groups disproportionately impacted by police violence, as well as individuals with experience in social services, comprise a majority of the board’s membership.”

Newsweek is technically correct.

But what Madison did accomplish, was to give 62 percent of the seats on the entire board to a group – black residents – that makes up just 7 percent of the city’s population.

Meanwhile, the group that makes up 79 percent of the city got one seat – and unlike the others, that’s not guaranteed.

So Newsweek did not address the critics’ claim, which was that the city was attempting to ban whites from the board, if not actually ban them.

Clearly, it is indisputable that the city wants whites to have limited input.

Moreover, the city’s resolution and ordinance indicate that the demand for racial diversity trumps intellectual diversity. Why, for instance, are there no seats set aside for retired cops or prosecutors?

In other words, Newsweek did not answer the question suggested by the city’s critics: How do the Madison police get a fair shake in these circumstances, when Democrats, of which there is no shortage of in Madison, perpetually complain that the police are a symbol of “systemic racism,” and a tool of “white oppression.”

The board seems to fit the old communist adage of showing them the man (in blue), and they’ll show the public the crime (against social justice). 

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