Using All the Puzzle Pieces to End Racism

My community is reeling in the aftermath of yet another police shooting of an unarmed black teen. While Madison anxiously awaits for the release of the state Department of Justice’s investigation into this killing, and whether or not the police officer will be prosecuted by the Dane County District Attorney, protests continue and acrimony remains high.

It is important to understand the larger context of this shooting to fully understand the furor of the protests. Despite its image as a progressive community, Madison’s racial disparities in school, incarceration and poverty are well documented. In fact, it is not unreasonable to describe Madison and the entire state of Wisconsin as having the worst racial disparities in the nation. I have previously written about the need for Madison to move from worst to first in this critical area.

It is not surprising then, that a group such as Young, Gifted & Black has surged to the forefront of the protests since Tony Robinson’s violent death at the hands of a police officer. This group has organized protests and shouted out demands for change at mayoral debates. Earlier this week, they blocked traffic for 7 hours in a major 6 lane artery in front of my son’s high school, causing disruption throughout the day.

Some, including Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, have chastised the tactics of some of the more vocal protestors, suggesting that “you deserve anything that you have coming to you when you engage in that sort of rhetoric.” Such statements only add fuel to the fire and suggest that the Police Chief could use some help editing his blog and before he speaks publicly.

Other voices are more moderate, calling for change and understanding. Rev. Alex Gee has led this group dubbing his movement, “Justified Anger.” Rev. Gee and I have discussed the need for a systems change approach to end racism in Madison.

Sadly, the power structure in Madison and the State of Wisconsin simply has not changed with regard to its failure to own genuine accountability for these horrific racial disparities which are ruining so many lives and poisoning our society at large. Indeed, Madison voters appear to accept the status quo in recently re-electing the mayor who has presided over these persistent racial disparities for so many years.

Systems change does not come easily and it takes many actors working the system in many ways. Rather than fighting about whether someone’s methods are effective or not, recognizing that no one method will solve the gigantic and historic problem of racism, will help all those working on the problem understand that they should support each puzzle piece in fitting together to solve the problem even if it is not a puzzle piece they choose to own for themselves.

Recently, I was reminded that one of the puzzle pieces involves bringing the community together in  joyous ways. Last weekend, the Madison East High Jazz Orchestra played a wonderful free concert at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. From a young, gifted and black singer who channelled Stevie Wonder and James Brown IMG_2565to the son of Madison School Superintendent who loved dancing to the music, IMG_2564this concert helped students feel pride in their accomplishment and the community recognize that there are many ways to come together to solve the problems or racism including music and dance.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


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