Students take first step in addressing racial disparities in Dane Co.

Middleton, Wis. --- With racial issues grabbing national headlines, some are looking for the answers as to what can be done locally to fix these problems. Some students at Middleton High School are taking those first steps to fight racial disparities not only in their community, but in Dane County as a whole.

“I'm hoping to see positive things come out from tonight,” said Maria Cody.

She's a Middleton resident, who was just one of more than 60 at the Middleton Performing Arts Center Wednesday night. The forum was looking to continue the conversation as to what needs to be done to address racial disparities. This discussion was hosted by the Student Voice Union.

“We're hoping that it just makes the issue of race more comfortable to talk about,” said the groups founder Ivraj Seerha.

The social justice group was started a year ago after he and other students noticed a need to address race issues in the school. What started out as a handful of students has now grown to 50 members and five chapters throughout the county.

SVU member, Akash Pattnaik, said, “The ideas is to form a habit of talking to one another about these really pressing issues.”

The forum was two fold. It featured a question and answer session with a diverse panel of 7 community members. It then turned into a town hall discussion which was moderated by students.

Several questions were targeted at the two local police chiefs on the panel as to what officers are doing fix the racial divide.

Middleton Police Chief Charles Foulke talked about just a few of the changes his department is making to help those living in poverty. He said there are a fair amount of service jobs in Middleton and the people working those are mostly minorities. As stats from the Race Equality Report show, those minorities are more likely to live in poverty. In order to help, officers are cutting back on issuing multiple citations and not towing vehicles – just to name a few. Chief Foulke says these citations can cost someone $100 or more. He said, “We are seeing some changes already.”

He also went on to say how officers are not praised for how many citations they issues, but by how many problems they've solved. Chief Tom Janssen, with the Cross Plains Police Department chimed in saying his officers are encouraged to have more positive interactions with the community. He talked briefly about how one of his officers was spotted shooting hoops with some kids.

Many of the common themes addressed by the panel revolved around poverty and education as ways to fix the racial disparities.

Students say one of issue that sparked this forum was the fatal shooting of Tony Robinson; however while NBC15 camera crews were there the subject was not directly addressed.

The SVU hopes to hold more community forums to keep the lines of communication open.