This week I had the chance to interview Mr. Andrew Larsen, a Milwaukee resident who created a book club within his Concordia Drive neighborhood in order to better inform himself and his community about the problems surrounding police brutality, mass incarceration, and other major issues inordinately affecting black communities across the country. The book club started off by reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights litigator and legal scholar. The novel focuses on the struggles surrounding African-American male relationships, the American prison industry, and other racial issues. Within the interview, we further discussed Milwaukee’s history of police brutality, immediate steps that can be taken to avoid officer involved violence, how COVID-19 has affected these conversations, and how you can stay informed and educated on these issues that may take you out of your comfort zone.

Pictured Above is the cover of The New Jim Crow, a focus of Larsen’s Book Club.

Larsen chose to start his book club in the wakes of the recent wave of police brutality and the resulting demonstrations against it across the country, hoping to further educate himself and his community through discussions in a group setting. At the start of our interview, he explained his frustrations with the city of Milwaukee and it’s history of police violence. He recalled the killing of Earnest Lacy when he was in high school. A death that eerily mirrored that of George Floyd and took place in the Near West Side. Lacy’s death at the hands of the police marked the first time Larsen became aware of the issue of police brutality. Lacy’s death even made national headlines and was featured in the August 16, 1981 edition of the New York Times, to read that article click here.

Above is The New York Times article covering the death of Earnest Lacy, and the resulting protests.

Fifteen years ago when Larsen moved back to the Milwaukee Area, he noticed that the problem was still very much alive with the assault of Frank Jude Junior by two off duty Milwaukee police officers. Mr. Larsen remembered thinking “Has nothing changed?” in regards to police brutality in our community. Since then, the city has had many more instances of officer involved violence, including Dontre Hamilton, Joel Acevedo, Sylville Smith, and many others. Larsen’s frustrations with the city of Milwaukee’s police department inspired him to start a book club to help educate himself and his community to create awareness for the systematic issues that plague the neighborhoods we call home.

Pictured above is the scene of one of countless protests against police brutality occurring across the country.

Since starting the book club and further educating himself after the peaceful protests across the country started, Larsen discovered the Eight Can’t Wait proposals that have been proven to reduce police brutality nationwide. The Eight proposals center around de-escalation, and have been proven to reduce the amount of deaths by the hands of police officers each year in cities that have enacted them. The proposals are as follows:

  • Ban Chokeholds and Strangleholds
  • Requires De-escalation
  • Requires warning before shooting
  • Requires exhausting all alternatives before shooting
  • Requires the duty to intervene if an officer notices a fellow officer going beyond the proper use of force
  • Ban shooting at moving vehicles
  • Has a use of force continuum, or use of force guidelines for officers to follow
  • Requires comprehensive reporting

Larsen noted that as of right now, Milwaukee has accepted 3 out of 8 proposals. Within Larsen’s research and discussions within his community he believes that these 8 proposals would provide an immediate benefit to the city with little to no monetary cost.

Larsen also stated the importance of basic discussion with his fellow community members within the book club. Noting that reading The New Jim Crow served as a kickstart to further discussion within his neighbors. These sort of gatherings are important because they give community members a chance to process their understandings of current issues together in a space where they can learn and listen to the experiences of neighbors who may have different perspectives on how to handle issues.

Personally, as a Marquette student I sometimes find myself in a sort of bubble of white privilege when I am walking around campus, surrounded by people who look like me and a police force that actively looks to protect me at all times. Larsen noted that in his Concordia neighborhood he also frequently finds himself addressing his own privilege and seeking to better inform himself on social issues. Book clubs and community discussions like Larsen’s provide an opportunity to expand knowledge of difficult, but necessary topics of discussion like the institutional racism we face in the United States.

To get more information on The New Jim Crow, and other books that unpack and discuss systemic racism in America click here.

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