Madison, Wisconsin was recently ranked in one online list as “the best place to live in America.” This kind of accolade begs the question: How are such rankings decided? Who is it for? Everyone? Or just a few?
This ranking is confusing to those who look at safety, diversity, and justice metrics. rise in violenceThe city’s stance against Black people and the fact the state of Wisconsin is in 2020 ratedLast in the nation for racial equality. While there are many factors that go into these rankings, and they can be easily disputed. But one thing is certain: Our state and our city do not provide a safe environment for Black people.
A queer Black woman who survived the attack by a group of men on her is being charged with self-defense in our city. Is this “the best place to live in America”?
For many years, the 24-year-old has been around Kenyairra GadsonShe was subject to harassment, abuse, and intimidation by a man in her local community. Her gender and sexual orientation made them vulnerable targets. Her abuser taunted and used homophobic slurs against her. One incident saw him shoot at her.
The man and a group of his friends followed her on Halloween 2018 as she tried to escape. Once she made it to her friend’s car, they began their attack. Gadson shot one man to protect her self and was eventually imprisoned for two year for first-degree reckless killing.
The United States is currently undergoing a national conversation about safety and crime. This conversation is often focused on the role and responsibilities of the police and the criminal justice system. But who are these institutions really serving anyway?
Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old, was elected as the 2015 Youth President murdered by police officer Matthew KennyMadison. Robinson’s grandmother fought hard to compel the city to take action, and petitioned the courtShe is seeking justice for her beloved grandson. Robinson was killed by the officer who shot him. was never charged. The government’s treatment of a police officer who killed an innocent young man compared to its treatment of a survivor of violence, who was criminalized for defending herself, is a revealing contradiction. This allows us to see who the criminal justice system serves and who it abandons.
In September last year, Doyle Jay Reifert, 59, killed Brian Swan, his roommate. District Attorney Ismael Zanne, who sought 50-year imprisonment for Kenyaira gadson, released Reifert without any charges, asserting that Wisconsin’s self-defense statute — which is similar to “stand your ground” laws and commonly known as the “castle doctrine” — could apply to the case. No judge. No jury.
Madison’s criminal justice system has declared a woman acting in self-defense to have been a murderer while allowing men like Kenny or Reifert to go free.
Madison is clear about who is allowed to be a victim, and who is considered a perpetrator. Despite courts saying that they aim to protect survivors, their actions have made one thing very clear: Their definition of a victim or survivor doesn’t include Black women.
Gadson’s story is tragic, but not unique. Many survivors of violence suffer double persecution. They are first victim to their abusers, then they are victim of the legal system that criminalizes them and doesn’t protect them from harm. Gadson is facing incarceration, which should tell us everything about our system and the people it is meant to protect.
It shows us that a system which would imprison Black women to defend themselves was not designed to do so and is not capable of doing so. It also shows that instead of locking survivors away, it is important to talk about how we can prevent them experiencing violence. We know we will only be safe if the conditions are created for our safety. We need people to be in office and on our courts who understand how the system works, who it serves, and who it systematically excludes. These issues must be understood by the community. We also need to organize, speak out, and hold our elected officials accountable for abandoning Black survivors.
After eight years of a powerful citywide call for justice, it’s time for Madison’s courts to finally be accountable to the social movement led by Black communities.
Black queer women should be free from violence and have the right of self-defense.
After a night out, we have the right to be here and to walk along the streets with our friends.
We have the right of existence in our homes, on the streets, and wherever and whenever we go.
We will not stop until we make it so.
Find out how you can support Kenyairra Gadson.To Get involved here.