More than 65 people tuned in to an informational session Wednesday, Oct. 21, examining the homicide of Breonna Taylor, who was shot by law enforcement during a no-knock police raid in Louisville, Kentucky March 13, 2020.
“As an African heritage man, I am in pain; I am hurting. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t bear witness to another Black person being shot and killed by those who are there to protect us,” said Carl Crawford, Duluth's human rights officer. “If you’re outraged, you’re in the right conversation. You should be here. This is not a time for us to sit idly by and watch what’s happening unveil itself again and again and again.”
The public event was hosted and moderated by the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s legal studies and criminal justice program. The main speakers were Crawford and Superior Police Chief Nicholas Alexander.
“Law enforcement, criminal justice can’t improve unless we’re part of the discussions that are important to our community,” Alexander said.
He gave an overview of the Superior Police Department, from its mission and policies to initiatives that are changing the culture of policing in Superior, like Pathways to Hope and an embedded social worker. He talked about serving warrants, use of force incidents and the move from a “warrior” to a “guardian” mindset in law enforcement. The department has seen a reduction in use of force incidents, from an average 40 a year in the early 2000s to a current average of 12.
Panelists discussed elements that led to the homicide.
Why was there no initial body camera footage? Why was medical aid not provided immediately?
“We render aid to the public before we render aid to ourselves,” Alexander said.
He pointed out that Superior police officers rendered aid immediately in an officer-involved shooting a few years ago, which probably saved the injured man’s life.
If the Louisville incident was dangerous enough to merit a no-knock warrant, panelists were asked, why were only three officers involved?
“That surprises me as much as you,” said UWS lecturer and longtime law enforcement officer Steve Steblay. “That’s totally unsafe for the officers, not to mention the people inside just to have three people. It’s not part of the protocol I was ever involved in.”
There was discussion about the spin that was initially put on the incident, that Taylor was a criminal, and new information that grand jury members have provided about what charges were brought against the officers.
“I’m getting a lot of students asking how can all this be legal and justified? Where is the equity?” said UWS senior lecturer Nate LaCoursiere, an attorney.
As facts continue to emerge, he said, “there are real problems with legal process in this case, start to finish. I think it’s something to make clear this is one of the worst reflections of how this process is supposed to work.”
Members of the public shared their own experiences, talking about the fear people of color feel around law enforcement.
“Minorities are afraid all the time,” said Ephraim Nokoi, a UWS communications professor.
Racism is at the root of many systems in the nation, including law enforcement and criminal justice. It is steeped in history and division.
“I think it goes down to a breakdown in relationships, how we learn about each other,” Crawford said.
He challenged law enforcement nationwide to condemn acts like the homicide of Breonna Taylor and put consistent policies in place.
“Where is it safe to be Black in America? We’re shot jogging, now we’re shot sleeping, now we’re shot going to the store,” Crawford said. “At what point as a country are we going to realize that the problems we’re having with police departments all over America is we’re not speaking the same language and we’re not on the same page.”
Crawford encouraged residents to take action by voting and by getting to know people of color in the community.
"We are invisible until we need to be seen, and unfortunately we're usually seen at the end of a news broadcast that we have been killed or we have been arrested. And that needs to stop," Crawford said.
Moderator Allison Willingham, an assistant professor of criminal justice, acknowledged that the flyer for the event included many white faces.
“As white people we have to be anti-racists, and we have to get involved in this, and we have to respond to injustices that we see. It’s really important that white people wake up and start caring about these issues as well,” Willingham said.