The setting is Madison Wisconsin. A historical activism stronghold of about 230,000 people and unusually low violent crime compared to other cities of its size. By far the largest municipality in Dane County, a county of which, according to the “Race to Equity” report by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, has the highest racial disparities in incarceration in the entire country. According to mappingpoliceviolence.org Madison also ranks as the third highest city in the nation for police killings as opposed to civilian killings. In fact, on multiple years more people were killed by Madison police than by Madison residents.
Rewind back to 2011. The iconic occupation of the Capitol, what has been credited as the inspiration for the entire Occupy Wall Street movement that proceeded it. Tens of thousands of people a day, some days over 100,000 flooding the Capitol Square to petition their government. A new generation of political activists emerge combined with previous generations all strategizing for change. Occupying the Capitol building 24/7, a move that had not been seen for decades.
After the occupation ended there was a time when numbers were much smaller. Capitol Police decided to use this time to restrict activities they could not legally restrict. That’s where I came in. Leading a series of civil disobedience actions over a period of two years, the first that had been seen in the Capitol, again for decades. Police and media painted me as the face of civil disobedience and police took notice, arresting me fifty times over the next three years, only three of which held up none of which were violent.
Fast forward to August of 2014. Michael Brown is gunned down in Ferguson Missouri sparking protest groups across the country in the Black Lives Matter movement. Locally in Madison, a group called Young, Gifted, and Black starts up organizing protests and rallies forming the Madison arm of this movement. March 6, 2015 Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny kills local black teenager Tony Robinson. Holes exist all over his story, a smile across his face in pictures afterwards. Protests ensue in Madison, including civil disobedience. I participate in many of these protests as merely a participant/ally, in no way a leadership capacity as I had in the Capitol struggle. Running a business allows me the financial resources to kick into this battle, again as merely an ally, in ways I see fit. I form a basis of bail, on one occasion bailing everyone out who was still in the jail (and not released) after an action blocking a street. When the non indictment comes through I get hundreds of yard signs printed for people to carry around bearing the message “Fuck The Police Jail Matt Kenny”.
Fast forward again to July 12th of 2016. I own a house in an upper middle class neighborhood of town. One of the people I am renting a room to is on house arrest for an infraction involving a plant. Deputy Hamilton of the Dane County Sheriffs Department stops by the house to do a random drug screen on the roommate. He then takes him to the jail in handcuffs. The next day I call to find out what happened. Deputy Hamilton informs me that my house and particularly me have been put on red alert. I asked what that means. He informs me that it means any time the address, my name, or my car are pulled up in the system it pops up Red Alert: Dangerous to law enforcement – Proceed with caution.
Naturally, I am curious how a person who has no violent history whatsoever would get singled out like that. I inform Deputy Hamilton that it must be a mistake. I informed him out of dozens of contacts with police never once have I even been alleged to have been violent. He proceeds to tell me that days prior the neighbors said they saw someone with a gun at my house. Keep in mind my neighbors are quite old and quite racist. They have made statements about how they do not like me because I bring “N******” around the neighborhood. Despite the fact that no guest of my house has ever caused an issue in the neighborhood they label me as a thug. They question how someone my age (28) could own a house in such a neighborhood and assume it must be criminal activity. I inform Deputy Hamilton that Wisconsin is an open carry state and although the accusations were false they constitute legal activity. He informs me that it is the combination of this accusation and, in his words, “The work you have done for a very small yet very vocal minority in the community”. I try to question him further but, realizing he has already said too much, he hangs up.
Fast forward again to 1:57 A.M., September 21, 2016. I am in my basement coughing/vomiting up large amounts of blood and barely able to breathe. I had gotten an exhausting medical treatment the Thursday before and things were not going well. I had been in urgent care a day prior and they said my lungs were not sounding good at all and they recommended admitting me for observation but given as it was solely for observation I declined. They gave me a list of symptoms and told me many times very sternly “If any of these pop up call 911. Do not drive like you did today. And do not have someone else drive you.”. Among those was coughing up blood.
Having a 160 lb Mastiff who is a bit overly protective, I assumed the best course of action was to wait on the front porch so that he would not get in the way of emergency services (he particularly doesn’t like police). Several minutes pass by and I’m wondering why the ambulance, a 2 minute drive at legal speed, hasn’t shown up yet. I see three people walking down the street checking the mailboxes on the end of the cul-de-sacs for numbers. And then they approach my cul-de-sac. They stand in the lawn for the racist neighbors and start yelling “Jeremy, are you Jeremy”. Obviously this was an insensitive move, as I had just told dispatch I can barely breathe or talk let alone yell. They yell over “You’re going to need to come off your property and over here if you want to be treated”.
I find this rather ridiculous but I am in no shape to protest at this point. As I’m walking, rather slowly, I begin to reach for my phone as I realize these are police. One of the three officers quickly pulls his gun, locks it on me, and they all yell “KEEP YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM YOUR POCKETS”. Gun still locked on me, I continue towards them knowing I just need medical attention. They inform me that the ambulance is waiting down the street. They say that because I have been labeled as dangerous to law enforcement they must search me before emergency medical care can be administered. I have choice words and verbally protest but allow them to search me seeing very little other choice and not having the time to buy. They pull everything out of my pockets and put it in an evidence bag, pictured above. They then call through their radios and tell the ambulance I have been searched and they can come now.
When I get in the ambulance they begin administering aid as I am taken to the hospital. I ask if they have ever seen this happen before, as in being instructed by police to wait down the street before giving aid until they have searched someone. They said they had not. Thankfully my issues were not as bad as urgent care had said they could be with those symptoms. I was able to be treated in time and made it through the night. But it does lead one to question, how an agency paid to protect and serve can intentionally hold up emergency medical assistance that I called for and wasn’t related in any way to a crime for symptoms that could be extremely time sensitive simply because they disagree with my opinion of them. Based on the symptoms I was having, just those extra minutes could have killed me in worst case scenario. In other words the Madison Police Department was literally willing and consciously made the decision to put my life on the line simply to intimidate and prove a point.
In no stretch of logic could I be a threat to them. I have never once in my dozens of encounters so much as lifted a finger at an officer or threatened physical violence. There is no basis whatsoever in any grounding of logic, where I would be a credible threat to any emergency services. This was a deliberate move and abuse of power to try to put me in my place. Emergency services are not something to be withheld in any circumstance. And then to hold me at gunpoint and demand I consent to a search and hold my health and my life over my head. That’s the reality of this situation. The police in Madison have gotten so far out of control that this is what they do. I can only imagine, if I am on this list, that other activists are as well. Requests for comment from the police department were returned with a generic answer not denying that this is what happened but simply brushing it under the rug as procedure. A hostile threat packaged up and wrapped in a bow labeled as procedure. But I will not back down. I will continue to have a voice, I will continue to use that voice to expose their abuses of power. No matter how many times they point a gun at me. No matter how many times they literally and intentionally put my life in jeopardy. This situation and their actions are direct domestic terrorism. And I will fight that terrorism psychologically not physically. The same way I did to cause them to fear me so much in the first place. To Chief Koval and Madison Police. You are being watched. And be on notice: this is a preemptive first strike from me to you. I am going to push back hard when MPD commits acts of domestic terrorism and suppresses emergency care for citizens who have never had a history of violence simply because they challenge your lack of accountability and horrible statistics of policing.