Cameron Swallow is the Wisconsin state coordinator of Better Angels, a national organization that seeks to depolarize America, encouraging unity, while recognizing and empowering people as human beings. A former school teacher, she is married to John Swallow, president of Carthage College in Kenosha.
How can Kenosha change for the better and become more inclusive?
I believe we must begin by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers who kill or injure unarmed civilians. The combination of widespread, longstanding fear of Black men with the knowledge that a police officer faces no significant consequences for shooting people in error can only produce more tragedies like the shooting of Jacob Blake in August.
This problem is not unique to Kenosha, and neither is the remedy. Officers who commit crimes should be charged with crimes.
Other ideas for increasing inclusiveness here and elsewhere:
Build affordable housing in town so that anyone with a job can find an apartment that does not cost more than a third of their monthly salary in rent.
Provide high-quality child care so that single parents can keep a job.
Invest in the Uptown neighborhood with a grocery store people can access on foot.
Invest in recruitment and retention of African-American teachers and administrators for the public schools.
Invest in mental health resources.
What has to happen in order for this to occur?
We need to see ourselves as one community, not competing individuals.
We need to believe that improving the lives of those in need will improve our communal life, and that this is a worthy goal that deserves our labor and care.
We need to meet each other human-to-human across all of the boundaries that divide our culture--black/white, rich/poor, liberal/conservative, gay/trans/straight, rural/urban, and we need to engage in meaningful conversation across our differences. It is much harder to hate someone with whom you've shared coffee and a conversation.
What has been your experience?
I've been warmly welcomed in Kenosha since our arrival in 2017: from Carthage College to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, from the Grace Welcome Center to the Kenosha Literacy Council to the ELCA Outreach Center, in choirs and book groups and a bluegrass band. I was completely unprepared for the shock of police violence and the violent response in Kenosha because I thought there was nothing unusual about the relationship between the police force and the Black community in Kenosha. But that's the point--there isn't anything unusual about it. This mutual distrust that flares into violence and destruction is our national norm now and can happen anywhere. I believe there are many actions necessary to create a better, more inclusive community in Kenosha, but none of them will be effective until we restore trust across our dividing lines. And a big step to restoring trust would be to eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement.
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