A rally at the Madison State Capitol yesterday in solidarity with Ferguson spotlighted the many ways Wisconsin reflects nationwide racial problems. Dubbed “Ferguson to Madison,” the rally drew striking social parallels between the two cities. Hundreds gathered in front of the Dane County Jail to speak, chant, and march around Madison’s outer loop to protest racist law enforcement and a school-to-prison pipeline that’s officially the worst in the country.
Wisconsin incarcerates more African Americans per capita than any other state, and was at the top of The Root’s list of the “Worst States for Black People” this year, with the description, “So bad it should get ranked twice.”
This year the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported Wisconsin as the worst place to raise black children––though it ranked 10th overall among places to raise white children.
Locally, Madison city government is currently debating the construction of a new jail, which was chief among the rally attendees’ concerns last night. After powerful speeches by local activists, 100 rally-goers entered City Hall to attend a committee meeting to discuss the proposed new jail. 50 people spoke in opposition to the jail, for which $8 million has been allocated.
Community leader and organizer Brandi Grayson, one of the rally’s lead speakers, says the sit-in was a success: representatives have asked to speak with her and her colleagues further regarding their concerns about the new jail.
“Ferguson and Madison are very similar in the sense that black people suffer as a result of state violence,” Grayson explains. “In Ferguson it looks like physical stuff––an unarmed teenager being killed––and in Madison it looks like black people being locked up at a rate that exceeds any city in the nation.”
In both places, she says, “The state is using its authority to oppress, to kill, to murder, to lock up black men, leading to disparities in education, resources, and opportunities.” Worse, she adds, African Americans are often jailed for reasons that don’t typically affect middle-class or white citizens. “Most of the crimes are crimes of poverty: stealing out of a store, or getting pulled over because you haven’t been able to pay a ticket or can’t afford registration,” she says.
“The same thing happens in Ferguson: most of their revenue is based on arrest tickets issued to [people of color] and poor people, so we have people making money off the backs of the poor.”
Image credit: Julia Burke. Brandi Grayson leads a march around the Wisconsin State Capitol.