Madison Police Chief John Wallace (right) talks with Darius Whitson-Spegal (left) and other young residents after Wednesday’s City Council meeting. Wallace condemned the actions of police involved in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and said Madison has a “zero tolerance” policy for such actions. (Madison Courier staff photo by Mark Campbell)
Madison Police Chief John Wallace (right) talks with Darius Whitson-Spegal (left) and other young residents after Wednesday’s City Council meeting. Wallace condemned the actions of police involved in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and said Madison has a “zero tolerance” policy for such actions. (Madison Courier staff photo by Mark Campbell)
The City of Madison has had a Human Relations Commission since 1968 with policies opposing racism and discrimination, but that didn’t stop City Council from adopting a resolution Wednesday reaffirming the city’s commitment to promote a diverse and inclusive community — especially in light of the protests against police brutality that are taking place in major cities across the country and as close as Louisville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

Mayor Bob Courtney invited Human Relations Commission members and others to speak at the Council’s regular meeting Wednesday and the message they brought was primarily one of harmony and respect locally, if not so much in other areas of the country.

Pastor Harvey Leggett of the Broadway Baptist Church not only gave the traditional prayer before the Council meeting, but also spoke about the acceptance and respect he’s felt in Madison over the past six years. As a longtime resident of Columbus, Indiana, Leggett noted that’s not always the case for a black man living in a predominantly white community.

“I was stopped five times in Columbus over the years but I’ve not been stopped here because of who I am and what I drive,” Leggett said.

Lifelong Madison resident Sue Livers said being black in Madison has never made her feel excluded. “I’ve lived all my life here and this is a very diverse and inclusive community,” Livers said, noting that having a diverse and inclusive community is a choice and Madison has made that choice. “Inclusion — you have to choose it — you have to choose to make people feel welcome and make them feel like they belong.”

Darius Whitson-Spegal was one of three young people who met with city leaders earlier on Wednesday to provide a snapshot of how they are treated by local police and the community. He said city leaders have always been supportive of minorities in Madison and that has carried over to the local police, of whom many are active in the community as mentors and coaches of youth.

And while people Whitson-Spegal’s age are struggling to be heard and bring change through protests in other communities, that’s not been necessary during his lifetime in Madison because city officials, from former Mayor Tim Armstrong to current Mayor Courtney, have always been willing to listen, he said.

Courtney said city leaders want to be part of the solution and proactive rather than reactive and that effective dialogue is much easier to achieve face-to- face than when people are shouting at each other or attacking on social media.

“I strongly condemn violence, hatred, discrimination and prejudice and I urge all communities to do the same,” Courtney said.

Later in the meeting, Madison Police Chief John Wallace condemned the actions of police in the Minneapolis death of George Floyd that triggered the latest round of protest. “As chief of the Madison Police Department, I strongly condemn the criminal acts by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department that led to the death of George Floyd,” Wallace said. “This was an act of murder by a man in a police uniform and should be prosecuted as such. The non-action by the officers who watched this man die is sickening and intolerable. These officers, too, should face justice.

“The Madison Police Department currently evaluates officers on a six months basis and has zero — zero tolerance — for racial, ethnic or sexual discrimination. Madison Police officers receive annual and ongoing training on how to properly restrain and how to de-escalate situations,” Wallace added. “My prayers for the people in Minneapolis and swift justice for George Floyd and his family. I encourage the citizens of Madison Indiana to contact me if they have any concerns.”