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Baraboo organizers continue to push for increased transparency as police adjust training in wake of national events
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Baraboo organizers continue to push for increased transparency as police adjust training in wake of national events

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Black Lives Matter protesters educate, march in downtown Baraboo (copy)

Protesters call for change to combat systemic racism through educational booths and marching in July in downtown Baraboo, even as those with opposing views joined the demonstration.

On the day when a Minneapolis police officer was found guilty of murdering a Black man named George Floyd, and nearly a year after the video of that act sparked outrage among people throughout the country in a building Black Lives Matter movement, community organizers want to keep working as they see their work to educate area residents.

Joe Rausch, a Baraboo High School graduate, was one of the main organizers of a Black Lives Matter demonstration held in July on the courthouse square. The event was meant to educate on racial issues and raise awareness.

Rausch said Tuesday the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of Floyd highlights how the justice system failed. Even though Chauvin was found guilty, Rausch said, Floyd can’t be brought back to life and his family because of it.

Despite that, a new precedent was set. Now is a time to push more for racial justice, Rausch said.

“For one fleeting moment, we won,” he said. “If there’s anything I can take away from this is that it’s important we all continue to keep our phones out, our hearts open and our fists raised.”

Community organizes

Since that demonstration last summer, Rausch has joined forces with local organization Baraboo Acts Coalition, which has the mission statement of pursuing a more equitable community for everyone through grassroots efforts.

Co-Chair Marcy Huffaker released a statement after the Chauvin verdict, echoing Rausch’s words about accountability being important but not something that can bring Floyd back to life.

“There is so much more work to do, and the Baraboo Acts Coalition is committed to continue working with organizations and individuals that want to address these issues in our community,” Huffaker said.

The organization was a driver of the forum hosted by Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf in February, alongside then Mayor Mike Palm and Jenny Erickson from the University of Wisconsin Madison Sauk County Extension Office.

The event, called Community Conversations with the Baraboo Police Department, should have been a live interaction, Schauf said. Instead due to COVID-19, it was questions submitted to the department and answered in a prerecorded video. People could submit their questions anonymously.

It was a positive aspect to have a recorded event that can be viewed at someone’s leisure, but it loses elements of interpersonal interaction, Schauf said.

The forum focused on departmental policy regarding use of force, mental health, racial and ethnic diversity in policing practices and immigration status.

“We’ve tried to be very open when the public has questions, to try to answer those as timely as we can,” Schauf said. “The problem there being is we don’t always get the face time with the people we’d like, especially in the COVID era.”

Overall, he said the goal is to address issues and talk about important topics to identify and ultimately, find a common resolution.

“We all have to be open enough to not only stand up and have that conversation, but active listening as well,” Schauf said. “We’re talking people’s feeling of security and comfort. They need to be able to look at their police and say, ‘Hey, what do you believe?’”

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The challenge, Schauf said, is there is a strong movement about reforming police, but people use the word “reform” without specifying what they want to see changed. Police are being asked to respond to more calls that should not have an armed person showing up, Schauf said, noting that as an example of the discussion around reform.

At the same time, he said there are a number of mass shootings throughout the country, even affecting local municipalities. Schauf pointed to the drive-by shooting Sunday in Lake Delton as an example.

Conversation encouraged

For Rausch, the first step in reform for the community is having those conversations.

“Our definition of reform in a city like Baraboo obviously differs a lot than in Minneapolis,” Rausch said. “So our initiative is primarily in expanding our ability to create that dialogue between community and police.”

Rausch said they plan to ensure transparency within police policies and procedures and allow for tough questions to be asked about those national stories of police brutality and shootings of Black people by officers.

Rausch encouraged everyday people to have those “uncomfortable conversations” with family members or friends. First instincts should be to “listen to people of color,” Rausch said. Though emboldened by people listening, there is still work to be done, he added.

“I think if I were to be pulled over by the police in Baraboo, I would maintain the same level of caution and alertness that I do if I were to be pulled over anywhere in America,” Rausch said.

Training updated

The Baraboo department has increased its training in response to recent police events nationally, Schauf said.

A specific example is increased, scenario-based sessions to create more “muscle memory” to avoid “weapon confusion,” Schauf said, referencing the recent shooting of a 20-year-old Black man named Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

An officer named Kim Potter was part of a traffic stop on Wright. Police say the vehicle had an expired registration. When Wright struggled while another officer attempted to handcuff him, he re-entered his car. In body camera video, Potter can be seen reacting to the scuffle and grabbing her firearm despite yelling that she intended to stun Wright as he was seated in the driver’s seat. Instead of deploying the stun gun still in its holster, Potter fired a single bullet at Wright and the vehicle drove away, crashing into a nearby vehicle. Potter has since been charged with manslaughter in Wright’s death.

The police chief for Brooklyn Center said officers carry their firearm on the dominant hip and the stun gun on the opposite side, noting that Potter mistakenly grabbed for the wrong weapon.

Schauf said Baraboo officers either wear the stun gun on the non-dominant hip or higher up on their vest, adding that it’s generally referred to as the “reaction side or the weak side.”

“All training starts with acknowledgement,” Schauf said. “Understanding that, that’s where we started with our policies…We’re going to keep moving forward.”

With the increased training and work toward improvement by police officers in Baraboo, Rausch said he is heartened by those steps toward more safety.

“It makes me feel as though our demonstrations, the conversations we’ve been trying to generate, have been having an affect on the people we would like to have an affect on,” Rausch said. “It does make me hopeful and it makes me want to pursue this agenda more passionately than ever before because this isn’t the time to sit back and let ourselves lulled into the narrative that the changes we’ve been trying to make have been successful.”

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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