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Data reveals racially disproportionate enforcement in Janesville schools

JANESVILLE

Black kids at Janesville public schools have been cited, arrested and referred to juvenile authorities at a rate that is more than seven times higher than the rates for other races, according to a Gazette analysis of police and school data.

Despite making up 6.2% of the student population at Janesville public schools, black kids accounted for one-third of all citations, arrests and referrals from the last two school years, according to the analysis.

Janesville school data shows 355 black students enrolled for 2020, and police data shows 158 of the reported police actions in the last two school years were for black kids. That’s 445 police actions per 1,000 kids. The rate for all other races is 58 per 1,000.

Janesville School District Superintendent Steve Pophal said he wasn’t surprised by the numbers.

“Schools are a reflection of the communities in which they reside, and so the problems that exist in any given community, whatever those may be, including racism, invariably end up manifesting themselves at school,” Pophal said.

The issue caused concern for Lonnie Brigham of Janesville, who works with at-risk youth and has worked with a citizens committee advising Janesville police on relations with black people.

He called the disparities in the data “scary.” He pointed to the school-to-prison pipeline idea, which is that a police record from an early age follows a person throughout life, leading to fewer opportunities for employment and schooling—as well as a higher likelihood of incarceration.

“To me, that’s just a sad commentary on the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said. “Because once these kids get a record, they are marked for life.”

Janesville police officials said a majority of the police actions—citations, arrests and referrals to juvenile authorities—stemmed from school officials referring matters to police and were not initiated by school resource officers.

The Gazette analyzed Janesville police data from the start of the 2018-19 school year until a little after schools shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data includes citations, arrests and juvenile referrals made at the addresses of Janesville public schools between Sept. 1, 2018, and April 1, 2020. People older than 18 were filtered out. Each person for each incident was counted as one, no matter how many counts each faced in the incident.

In an interview with The Gazette, a police official said the department had not examined police actions at Janesville schools broken down by race.

Behind the numbers

Janesville Deputy Chief John Olsen said it’s difficult to draw conclusions about the numbers without looking at the details of each incident and knowing the history and background that led to each moment.

“That’s why I struggle with just looking at numbers without looking at what actually happened and how we got to this point,” he said.

Olsen said every person has biases, and officers go through training to recognize that and base their decisions about enforcement actions on behaviors.

Janesville police have examined referrals from the schools overall, but he said they had not broken them down by race. He said they also did not have a report for all arrests broken down by race.

Pophal said that while arrests are at the forefront of discussions across the country and the district should examine procedures, parents in the past have worried there wasn’t enough police involvement in schools.

“I meet with Chief (Dave) Moore regularly. Both of us continuously approach our work from a service point of view. We’re not here to make arrests; we’re here to solve problems,” Pophal said.

Brigham praised Moore as forward-thinking and said the city’s officers get good training on unconscious bias.

But that’s not always enough.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” Brigham said.

Even if the enforcement actions aren’t intentional, an unconscious bias can lead to disparities, he explained.

Pophal said resource officers bring a lot of good to the district.

“Positive relationship building is leading to prevention. Because I can tell you as a former principal of 20-plus years in middle and high schools, our liaison officers had great relationships with kids,” Pophal said. “And for every incident they had to respond to, there were 10 that they prevented from happening. … And those don’t get measured because how do you measure those, right? How do you track those? But I can tell you the number of those that happen is exponentially larger than the list that you have from interventions after there’s been a problem.”

Santo Carfora is a former Craig High School teacher and a member of the Diversity Action Team of Rock County. He also delivers anti-bias training to police and others.

He said black kids are “a little less trusting” of police, so they might be more willing to act against police.

“In a lot of cases, I think the black kids are more on guard, and so they tend to be less cooperative,” he said.

Carfora said “kids know how to push the buttons,” which can lead to overreactions from police.

“Like anything else, sugar goes a long way,” he said. “And the students who are kinder and nicer are treated kinder and nicer.”

He said schools should handle most discipline problems, but sometimes police are needed. Officers in schools need to build relationships with students, and he thinks Janesville has done a good job with that.

Pophal said changes in curriculum might be part of the answer.

“Whose history is being taught and what does that look like if I’m a black student? Do I see myself at school? Do I see myself in the resources that the school distributes and uses to teach everybody or don’t I? I suspect we have work to do in some of those areas,” he said.

Olsen said the numbers in the data show the “last resort” option for officers.

“We don’t want them (students) in the criminal justice system,” he said. “But sometimes making that referral gets them other services that they may need.”

Anthony Wahl 

Craig High School police liaison officer Sean Jauch walks the hallways of the school on a December afternoon.

Police or school?

Pophal said the district works closely with local police to ensure all parties understand there is a difference between breaking school rules and breaking laws. Liaison officers decide whether to issue citations or make arrests, and the school leaders decide whether to discipline students.

The Janesville School District employs five full-time resource police officers, one each at Parker and Craig high schools as well as Edison, Franklin and Marshall middle schools. The officers also respond to other schools, if needed.

The officers are there to make sure the building is safe and to deal with any activity that is deemed illegal, said Kim Peerenboom, director of pupil services for the school district.

“They’re there to ensure laws are not being broken and policies are being followed,” Peerenboom said of resource officers in schools. “Really, first and foremost, they’re there to build relationships with the kids, the students and their families and to help them seek out resources, if needed, and to be more of a positive role model so that there isn’t fear that when you see the police it’s something to be afraid of.”

Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary said at a recent meeting he was concerned schools refer too many disciplinary matters to police. He said he was seeing “an abdication of any responsibility for school discipline by the schools,” and he wanted more clarity on officers’ roles.

Peerenboom said school discipline issues always are handled by building and district leaders first. If school officials discover a crime might have occurred, they refer the incident to the officers, who conduct an independent investigation, she said.

Incidents that immediately warrant police action in schools include those involving weapons, drugs, illegal contraband, extreme bodily harm, broken noses, severe bruises and serious threats, Peerenboom said.

Other incidents, such as a social media fight between students that takes place off campus but carries over to school, also can lead to a police investigation, she said.

Olsen said school resource officers most often are investigating matters referred to them by teachers, administrators or other school officials.

He said he hopes school officials do what they think they can do for a student before they involve an officer to “get these students the services that they need.”

Not every incident sent to a police officer leads to a citation or arrest, Olsen said. Sometimes, they end in warnings or meetings with parents, he said.

Olsen said officers do much more in schools than issue citations and make arrests. He said resource officers are involved in building security, staff training, parent meetings and presentations on topics ranging from bullying to alcohol and drug safety.

Disparities in the policing of black kids and school discipline are not unique to Janesville. They have been reported on across the state and nation through the years by various media outlets.

Locally, the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has looked at examining disparities in policing more broadly.

The council has reviewed data on disorderly conduct specifically, believing it is a bellwether because officers have more discretion about whether to arrest for this offense than for other offenses. The review showed racial disparities based on 2018 adult arrest numbers from Janesville police, Beloit police and the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.

When looking at kids arrested at Janesville schools, disparities exist there, too. Black kids more often had a disorderly conduct charge—40% of the time—than their white counterparts—about 30% of the time.

In the school data, disorderly conduct was the most common offense for black and white kids. Other common offenses seen among those kids include truancy, battery, disturbing the peace (fighting) and possession of marijuana and/or tobacco.

Pophal said the school district and police department are working to improve school policing.

“Chief Moore and I and his team and our team—and we’re one team—are continuously trying to err on the side of solving problems, preventing problems and serving the community rather than just making it about accountability and arrests and citations and locking people up,” Pophal said. “That is truly a last resort. … There’s lots of prevention and problem-solving that’s happening in front of that.

“And we all still have work to do because it’s still imperfect.”


Local
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Historical society revels in Yeomans family donation

JANESVILLE

At first Jennifer Drach thought someone was playing a trick on her.

The curator at the Rock County Historical Society was looking through a recently donated book when a photo of Abraham Lincoln fell out.

Not just any photo.

But an original Lincoln photograph taken in 1861.

“The rare photo is a once-in-a-lifetime find,” Drach said. “You hear stories about things like this happening.”

Drach learned from her uncle that, years ago, people often put photos, notes and cards in books to preserve them and to keep them flat.

But she had no idea what a treasure awaited her when she flipped through the 19th-century “Abraham Lincoln: Man of God” by John Wesley Hill.

Drach immediately called Bob and Gay Yeomans of Janesville to tell them what was in the book they donated.

Angela Major 

Angie Yeomans, through her son, Bob, and daughter-in-law, Gay, donated 120 items to the Rock County Historical Society, including this silver bread warmer.

“They didn’t miss a beat,” Drach said. “They said, ‘We are so happy you found it. Keep the photo. Now thousands of people can enjoy it.’”

The accidental gift was among many donations to the Rock County Historical Society from the Yeomans family this spring.

Angie Yeomans, through her son, Bob, and daughter-in-law, Gay, donated 120 items, including furniture, silverware, a silver bread warmer, an English print, linens and books.

The well-cared-for items have not been appraised, but historical society Executive Director Timothy Maahs called them priceless.

Most of the pieces date from 1860 to 1880 and were handed down in the Yeomans family.

Many items already have been incorporated in the Lincoln-Tallman House.

Drach said it will be mid-summer before the Lincoln photo goes on display, maybe in the Lincoln bedroom of the 1857 mansion. She explained that it will be properly matted, framed and put under museum-quality glass.

“The photo is so well-preserved,” she said. “There was no image transfer of ink into the book where we found it.”

Angela Major 

A donated settee in the Lincoln-Tallman House has feet with intricately carved details.

Other treasures

A carriage blanket from the Yeomans family also has ties to the 16th president of the United States.

Lincoln visited Janesville from Oct. 1 to 3, 1859, and stayed with the Tallman family.

So it is fitting that society historians draped the red blanket with shades of tan and green on the bed in the Lincoln bedroom.

“It’s in impeccable condition,” Maahs said, adding that the Yeomans family did an amazing job of preserving it.

The donation included a handwritten letter documenting that the circa-1850 blanket belonged to Asahel Gridley, who practiced law with Lincoln and became his good friend.

“It is extremely difficult to find items with documentation and a connection to Mr. Lincoln,” Maahs said.

Most likely, the carriage blanket came through Asahel’s daughter, Mary Gridley Bell, to the Yeomans family.

In addition to the blanket, the family’s donation includes a number of period furniture items.

An ornately carved settee sits in the main entry hall, where visitors might have waited for the Tallman family.

A large bureau with a mirror reflects stylish Victorian taste in the dining room.

And the mansion’s dumbwaiter now holds period serving pieces.

“The best compliments I have received while doing private tours is that the items literally make it look like the family just got up and walked out of the room,” Maahs said.

He is eager to share the donations, which he hopes will “inspire folks to learn more about the rich history of the area and the people who have come before us.”

Maahs called his interaction with the Yeomans family heartwarming and authentic.

Angela Major 

This table and print displayed in the Lincoln-Tallman House were donated by the Yeomans family of Janesville.

“This is exactly how local historical societies are able to survive,” he said, “through the generosity of people who care about these things. I can’t say enough. I feel so blessed for the historical society to have gotten such a beautiful gift.”

Bob Yeomans explained how the donation happened.

His mother, 99-year-old Angie, recently moved from a 160-acre farm north of Janesville to Cedar Crest. His father, Floyd or “Bud,” died in 2010.

“My parents lived a wonderful life at the farm,” Yeomans said. “They had a fairly large house filled with antique furniture handed down for generations in the family and other pieces of interest.”

After family members took some items, Yeomans contacted Maahs to see if the historical society was interested in the rest.

“He was like a kid in a candy store,” Yeomans said. “It made me so happy to see someone excited about these pieces. There’s great joy in giving, particularly where there is great joy in receiving. Emotionally, it is of great value to us to know the pieces are in a good home and many people will enjoy them.”

Anna Marie Lux is a human interest columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.


Obituaries and death notices for June 26, 2020

Beverly Jean Butts

William “Bill” Ludebeck Jr.

Todd M. McNett

Charlotte Ann Miller

Lester M. Nyborg

Lucile L. Stowers


National
AP
US virus cases near an all-time high as governors backtrack

NEW YORK

The coronavirus crisis deepened in Arizona on Thursday, and the governor of Texas began to backtrack after making one of the most aggressive pushes in the nation to reopen, as the daily number of confirmed cases across the U.S. closed in on the peak reached during the dark days of late April.

While greatly expanded testing probably accounts for some of the increase, experts say other measures indicate the virus is making a comeback. Daily deaths, hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that are coming back positive also have been rising over the past few weeks in parts of the country, mostly in the South and West.

In Arizona, 23% of tests conducted over the past seven days have been positive, nearly triple the national average, and a record 415 patients were on ventilators. Mississippi saw its daily count of new cases reach record highs twice this week.

“It’s not a joke. Really bad things are going to happen,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s health officer.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, whose state was among the first to reopen, put off lifting any more restrictions and reimposed a ban on elective surgeries in some places to preserve hospital space after the number of patients statewide more than doubled in two weeks. Nevada’s governor ordered face masks be worn in public, Las Vegas casinos included.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” Abbott said.

The U.S. reported 34,500 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, slightly fewer than the day before but still near the high of 36,400 reached April 24, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The daily average has climbed by more than 50% over the past two weeks, an Associated Press analysis found.

Whether the rise in cases translates into an equally dire surge in deaths across the U.S. will depend on a number of factors, experts said, most crucially whether government officials make the right decisions. Deaths per day nationwide are around 600 after peaking at about 2,200 in mid-April.

“It is possible, if we play our cards badly and make a lot of mistakes, to get back to that level. But if we are smart, there’s no reason to get to 2,200 deaths a day,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute.

The nation’s daily death toll has actually dropped markedly over the past few weeks even as cases climbed, a phenomenon experts said may reflect the advent of treatments, better efforts to prevent infections at nursing homes and a rising proportion of cases among younger people, who are more likely than their elders to survive a bout with COVID-19.

“This is still serious,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but “we’re in a different situation today than we were in March or April.”

Several states set single-day case records this week, including Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma. Florida reported over 5,000 new cases for a second day in a row.

Mississippi’s Dobbs blamed a failure to wear masks and observe other social-distancing practices.

“I’m afraid it’s going to take some kind of catastrophe for people to pay attention,” he said. “We are giving away those hard-fought gains for silly stuff.”

Tom Rohlk, a 62-year-old grocery store worker from Overland Park, Kansas, complained that young people sometimes act as if they don’t care: “It seems like it’s time to party.”

The U.S. has greatly ramped up testing in the past few months, and it is now presumably finding many less-serious cases that would have gone undetected earlier in the outbreak, when testing was limited and often focused on sicker people.

But there are other more clear-cut warning signs, including a rising number of deaths per day in states such as Arizona and Alabama.

The number of confirmed infections, in itself, is a poor measure of the outbreak. CDC officials, relying on blood tests, estimated Thursday that 20 million Americans have been infected. That is about 6% of the population and roughly 10 times the 2.3 million confirmed cases.

Officials have long known that many cases have been missed because of testing gaps and a lack of symptoms in some infected people.

Worldwide, over 9.5 million people have been confirmed infected, and nearly a half-million have died, including over 122,000 in the U.S., the world’s highest toll, by Johns Hopkins’ count.

“Globally, it’s still getting worse,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

While some states impose new restrictions or pause their reopenings, some businesses also are backing off. Disney delayed its mid-July reopening of Disneyland.

As politicians try to strike a balance between public health and the economy, the government reported that the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week declined slightly to 1.48 million, indicating layoffs are slowing but still painfully high.

Elsewhere around the world, Paris’ Eiffel Tower reopened to visitors after its longest peacetime closure: 104 days.

With hospitals overwhelmed in New Delhi, Indian troops provided care in railroad cars converted to medical wards.

And in China, where the virus first appeared late last year, an outbreak in Beijing appeared to have been brought under control.