Portage County and Stevens Point leaders say they will listen; encouraging marginalized voices to speak up

Published: Jun. 1, 2020 at 6:20 PM CDT
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The public servants in charge of leading communities in Stevens Point and Portage County want to make it clear, they will listen and encourage people who feel unsafe or marginalized to talk with them about concerns.

Black Lives Matter protests continue around the country, including some in central Wisconsin, with more scheduled. While the protests rose out of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the protests are about the death or injuries of black people and people of color at the hands of police officers that have happened for years.

While individuals can implement change to create equality daily, leaders in the community have the power to ensure equality happens and that institutions that need change, can change.

For example, after months of work, the Portage County Executive Operations Committee will vote on the creation of a diversity affairs committee on Wednesday. If it passes it will head to the full board. Ntxhais (Chai) Moua, district 9 board supervisor said that the committee will not only help the county to celebrate the diverse community it has but amplify minority voices too.

"But also then to really look at policies that the board passes and board policies to make sure that none of our institutionalized racism or institutionalized biases are showing through and our policies aren't further oppressing marginalized communities," she said.

In 2016, Stevens Point passes a resolution condemning acts of hate, bigotry, or intimidation. Its mayor, Mike Wiza, said when racist or hateful incidents happen in the city, they are swift to take action, citing a recent case where people were targeted at a grocery store specifically because of their Asian heritage. Wiza and Moua said the Stevens Point Police Department were very responsive and listened to better understand what kind of experiences they have with others because of their race.

"Those groups that feel marginalized or feel unsafe, we need to address that," Wiza said. "And I want to make sure that every single member of our community trusts our law enforcement officers to the point where they are able to have a conversation about why they don't feel safe and what we can do to help make them feel safer."

For those who have a concern, critique, or criticism and want to see action or change, Wiza encouraged people to reach out or see him directly, contact other public servants, law enforcement, or submit an anonymous comment at the city's website (though he cautioned enough context needs to be provided for them to do something if they cannot call you back).

Moua was part of the protest in Stevens Point Sunday. During that protest, she said, "No peace, no justice, f--- the racist police." She told NewsChannel 7 she is aware that concerned some people in the community, but she stands by what she said. She explained the comment and the movement as a whole is about a system, not individual officers.

"If folks have been following me and the messages that I've been sending to our community," she said, "I've always talked about how you can have great police officers, but when the system is racist when the system is biased, you don't have an environment for your officers to do well."

She urged again that community leaders need to listen to people of color to improve institutions and create equity. For people who were upset by her comment, Moua encourages them to reflect about how they can work on their systems and what they can control with marginalized communities. She said while she has not talked with law enforcement in the area since the protest, she has had positive conversations about diversity in the past and plans to continue those conversations.