“Mediatrackers’” Attempted Slander Can’t Touch the Reverand’s Outstanding Work, Leadership, and Reputation
by Karma R. Chávez
Last week, I hosted a panel at UW-Madison called, “Best Policing Practices? From Ordinary Encounters to Deadly Force.” I invited M. Adams of the Young Gifted and Black Coalition and Freedom Inc.; former MPD Chief, Pastor David C. Couper; former Dane County Assistant District Attorney, Reverend Everett Mitchell; and former MPD Chief Noble Wray. Chief Wray could not attend at the last minute, and so roughly 80 attendees heard from the other three panelists. I asked the panelists to begin with a 5-7 minute opening statement on their view of the state of policing practices and suggested they could focus nationally, locally or some combination of both.
The panelists offered a wide array of very informed perspectives, and the audience offered some incredibly challenging questions for each of the them. At one relatively unremarkable moment at the end of his opening statement, Rev. Mitchell offered his suggestions about what he thought needed to be done to change policing practices. I say “unremarkable” because what Rev. Mitchell offered were ordinary, run-of-the-mill suggestions that many police reform advocates, including Pastor Couper, champion.
These suggestions included better ability to fire bad cops, more de-escalation training for police, and a relational-based conversation about officer training which includes police sitting in front of young people of color “cussing them out,” so that police can consider their perceptions and bias. His last suggestion was that community members should have more voice in excessive force claims. He said that the mere fact that people would be resistant to that idea suggests that we have a problem. The problem is that communities have no say in what safety is for them, and that lack of voice leads to redefinitions of safety in ways that are detrimental to already vulnerable communities.
To illustrate his point, he pointed to the fact that the places where the most arrests happen in Madison are malls and big box stores, including Wal-Mart and Target. Such arrests, Rev. Mitchell suggested are largely for petty theft, and in his view, a small crime of poverty against multi-billion dollar corporations should not be used as a justification for engaging in aggressive policing of communities. His point was, if I understand him correctly, that many people in poor communities would probably not say that aggressive patrolling of big box stores to monitor for petty theft makes them any safer. So when safety is defined by large corporations who want their property safe over the safety of poor people and people of color, and police operate by the corporations’ definition of safety, this is bad for those impacted communities’ ability to thrive (You can watch the entire video at this link, Mitchell’s comments run from about 13-22 minute marks).
I did not hear Rev. Mitchell argue that theft was not a crime. I did hear him argue that the patrolling priorities of police do not reflect the interests of poor people and people of color. What was not stated, but I think implied in Rev. Mitchell’s comments was the fact that crime happens in all sorts of arenas of Madison, like drug use on UW Madison’s campus or wealthy neighborhoods, and yet police don’t patrol those places. Whose interests are served by how police define safety?
I’ll admit that Rev. Mitchell’s was a nuanced point, one that requires context, intelligence and close listening to understand. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the quasi-media organization “Mediatrackers,” who had a reporter filming the event, took this benign comment out of context (showing just a 1:18 long clip on its website) in order to wage a smear campaign against Rev. Mitchell, whose other job is as Director of Community Relations at UW-Madison — despite that Mitchell was in no way speaking as a UW representative, as all the publicity for the event clearly shows.
In an article titled, “UW Director of Community Relations Says Shoplifting Not a Crime,” Jeremy Carpenter implies that Rev. Mitchell has poorly represented the UW by offering the analysis I provided above. Again, I invited Mitchell as a former prosecutor and current pastor. Further, it is clear to me that either Carpenter did not understand Rev. Mitchell’s point or he intentionally took it out of context in order to rile up right-wing ire and go after Mitchell’s UW job. Carpenter’s dog whistle worked. Mitchell has received horrific hate mail, and the article continues to make its way through the right-wing blogosphere and talk radio circuit.
A couple of weeks ago I was featured as the first in a new series by “Mediatrackers” for being a UW professor who pursues “useless knowledge.” Although I am a queer Chicana, and thus marginalized in some ways, as a tenured associate professor at UW-Madison with a supportive department, an expansive publishing record, and an international reputation for my scholarship, I was certainly made uneasy by the attack, but I felt more or less protected. As a Black man and a staff member at UW, it would seem Mitchell has very little protection, although I have full faith that Chancellor Rebecca Blank will stand by Mitchell and fiercely defend him against all critics.
She has every reason to. Just last week Rev. Mitchell was the recipient of two awards: the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute voted unanimously to present him with its Difference Maker Award in recognition of his work advancing civil rights, justice and compassion; and the OutReach Community Center announced they would be awarding him “Ally of the Year” for his work promoting LGBT rights in the Black community.
Moreover, Rev. Mitchell is a tireless advocate in the community, in his role as pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church and in his position as UW Madison’s Director of Community Relations. As one example, last fall he was instrumental in opening the UW Southside Partnership space on South Park Street. This space brings UW to the communities of color on the south side — communities who often feel isolated from all that UW has to offer. As someone who regularly organizes events in that space, I can say without hesitation that I have connected with numerous people who I never would have met otherwise. And those I have talked to are incredibly grateful to have UW show, even in a small way, that it is for them too.
I could go on for many pages about the important role that Rev. Everett Mitchell plays at the university and in the community. For now, I will simply say that Mediatrackers gets many things wrong (and that’s apparently its purpose–Mother Jones reports that one of its primary objective is to create “liberal scandals”). Rev. Mitchell, on the other hand, gets many things right–as a human, as a man of God, and as a representative of UW-Madison.