Years after… A Conversation

The following is an email exchange between me and woman I hired a number of years ago (I am posting it here with her permission}.

Alix captures a particular time in policing from the 1980s to 90s and how, years later, our eyes were opened — we woke up about race and racism! Those were “Camelot Years” in which part of our Mission Statement was “Diversity is our strength.” And it truly was.

Time does fly…

Det. Alix Olson, Madison Poice Dept.

Alix: “Thank the Goddess I stumbled upon your improving police blog this morning!  As my spouse Martha says, ‘you are our saint of justice.’ You hired me in 1981, and Chief Wray ‘retired’ me in 2011.  Over that 30 year period, I was a beat cop for about 4.5 years, then you promoted me to detective. 

“It had been my dream as a child to someday be a detective and there i was living, the dream.  But the dream also involved lots of sexism, homophobia and racism, both from within and without. 

“The without stuff was fairly easy to deal with; after all, the job required the ability to just let stuff like that roll  off your back.  The internal stuff was so much harder to cope with because it felt so much more personal. 

“But with the help of veteran officers and detectives, and also due to my natural excitement about having a gold badge, I thought I had dealt with the Big Three, as I like to call them then.

“Things changed for me drastically when I spent 4 years in the Dane County Narcotics and Gangs Task Force, and gradually I realized (dense white person wakes up a little) that what we were doing there was eminently racist. 

“After that experience, I spent the last 12 years in Persons Crimes, homicides, etc. with a ton of court work, as you can imagine well.  It was during those years, when I worked out of the South Police District, and had so many positive contacts with the various communities of color in South Madison, as well as developing some close friendships and working relationships with detectives and officers who weren’t white, that I came to see the inherent racism within the policing system. 

“It was also during this time that I helped to start STAJOH (Seeking Tolerance and Justice Over Hate) to educate law enforcement, DAs, judges, P& P agents, and community reps about hate crimes and what MPD could do to protect vulnerable folks from hatred and bigotry.  STAJOH’s effort has since morphed into a broader racial justice group within the City.

“However, it wasn’t until after I retired, and specifically the killing of Michael Brown, that my eyes were opened wide to the systemic racism and hatred within policing in America.  I mean, I had known about it in the past (Amadou Diallou, Abner Louima, Derek Bell, and countless others) but Michael’s death really hit me full force with immense sadness and rage that had been somewhat kept at bay while I was ‘busy working’ and ‘didn’t have time’ to address it ‘given all the demands of my job,’ 

“The quotes are the excuses I now realize I told myself back then, before 2011.  I don’t think I understood that as good as it was, MPD was also a part of the racist American policing system, one that derived from the slave hunters and Jim Crow.

“So, since the Ferguson debacle, where militarized policing took over the profession for good (it seems), I have been engaged in a much deeper self-analysis about racism and policing. 

“Parts of my family have African-American roots, and this makes it even more important for me to reckon with my own ingrained and deep-rooted racism, even as I participate in BLM protests here in the rural white and conservative New England countryside. 

“This is why your blog is so crucial for me and why I can’t wait to sit down and read it through.  What happened in Madison after George Floyd’s killing is now being co-opted by white supremacists who support the white supremacist president, to make non-whites look like the perpetrators and the white militia killers as victims. 

“But after all, that’s what white people have been doing for over 400 years now. Please keep up your non-violence messages and work.  That’s the only way to make change.  The civil rights movement showed the way, and this is the new iteration of that fight.  Violence is never the answer. 

“I’m so glad to have worked with you, and now to be able to continue that work together makes me feel much better and more determined than ever to stand up for true peace and justice.”


Me: “Alix, you have warmed my heart… Thanks SO MUCH for this inspired message… Yes, I too really woke up after the Brown killing. I also ran into a solid wall after three very questionable deaths by police here in our old home town.

“Being outside police for new 2+ decades has given me deeper insight in how we participated (with good intentions, of course) in a racist system. We need to press on for the change we both know is needed… Blessings to you and your loved ones. You always were special.”


Alix: “Your reply brought me to tears.  Do you see how much you influenced me, and continue to do so?  The day I came into your office for my final interview before being hired, and saw Dr. King and Mr Gandhi on your wall, I know I’d picked the right department and the right Chief.  Thank you for your unending wisdom and compassion.  Peace.