Okay, everyone, brace yourselves, because I’m going to get serious with this post….
Perhaps you heard the news coming out of Madison the past few days. Downright tragic news, in fact. News that has shook up and saddened a lot of people in this city, whether they were directly affected by it or not. News that has driven people to anger and protest. News that has generally unified disparate groups. News that has brought our fair city some unwanted attention, but has, thankfully, shone a lot of light on our better side even as it lays bare our worst.
Okay, I’m not gonna beat around the bush; I’ll just say it: A Madison police officer shot and killed an unarmed 19-year-old kid.
Now, I won’t get too much into all the how-it-happeneds and the who-bears-the-most-responsibility talks, suffice to say that there is an independent investigation underway. What is for certain is that the victim had a future ahead of him (he had graduated from high school just last year), that he was of mixed-race parentage (his mother is white), and that the nature of his death — coming at the hands of a man with a badge — has aroused upset feelings from those in the citizenry who feel the incident was unjust.
Naturally, when I heard the news, I had to take a deep sigh of dread:
I mean, you hear of tragic news like this in other locales (like here, here, and even just down the road from here), but you don’t always think it would happen here in good ‘ol Madison… until, sadly, it does. And when it does, and the news and the shared anguish hits you like a hammer, you are left to wonder, is there any way that things can improve around here? In this proudly progressive city that always seems to rank high in “Best City” or “Most Livable” lists, but can’t seem to totally bridge the racial divide? I do not profess to know all the answers to that last question (and please don’t misconstrue this post as a profession that one way or another would be a cure-all). However, last week’s incident has generated a lot of discussions about what will result in the aftermath, which is good to see. (One such example of that can be found in this article.)
Another thought that ran through my mind is how the citizenry of Madison would react. As noted above, there is a lot of anger in the community over what happened, who and what was responsible, and what should happen in the aftermath. And, yes, there have been marches and protests. This town has a well-earned reputation of people voicing their feelings by taking it to the streets, from the anti-war campus protests of the 1960s to protests in recent years (and even recent weeks) over the direction state government is taking Wisconsin. The days after the incident have seen that spirit continue, and if you don’t believe me, you should’ve seen this front page:
While the marches and vigils have been vocal, it’s heartening as a Madisonian to know that they have been peaceful. Admit it, when you heard the news and learned of the marches, there was a part of you that was dreading the thought of things turning slam-bang violent as it had been in Missouri. (I imagine that’s what the national news types were thinking.) On the contrary. Those who have taken to the streets — young as well as old — have not turned over any cars or broke any windows or set any buildings on fire. Rather, they just marched up and down a few streets and made their way to City Hall or the State Capitol rotunda. Some have channeled their frustrations and thoughts into creative avenues, too, as evidenced by this article recapping the Line Breaks performance festival.
One other thing that has lingered in my mind in the aftermath of the tragedy is somewhat smaller in the whole scope of things but still has me wondering: Would the neighborhood where this event happened be scarred or changed in any way? The incident occurred on Williamson Street, which though not the busiest thoroughfare on Madison’s east side is still a notable stretch of road. Virtually everyone around here (even a west-sider like myself) never call Williamson Street by its formal name, rather simply “Willy Street.” The neighborhood that Willy Street bisects is a rather eclectic locale; you’ll find anything from pizza places and coffee shops to parks and schools to performance theaters and nightclubs (including this popular LGBT-friendly club). The people you’ll find on Willy Street are eclectic as well: Black and white, young and old, gay and straight, cis-gender and trans, families and singles.
Willy Street is one to have a good time, too. Fruit Fest has become a popular LGBT celebration every June, and more famously every September, the Willy Street Fair closes out summertime and ushers in autumn. Willy Street Fair is one massive 2-day weekend block party, where vendors and performers of many stripes entertain the equally various populace. On the Sunday of the fair, the free-spirited of Willy Street take part in the weekend’s centerpiece, a parade through the neighborhood. If you don’t believe me, please check out this visual proof from last September’s parade:
Willy Street is an amazing neighborhood… tragedy notwithstanding. Which is why I like to think of the happier times and more peaceful images of this neighborhood… and of Madison as a whole. For sure, this city has its share of problems and issues, including those that have been only exacerbated by the events of the last week. And there’s no mistaking that there will still be lingering problems and issues that may be hard to overcome. Despite it all, however, I am optimistic that this town can still come together and work toward becoming a better city. Here’s hoping we can do it.