Statement in Response to Police Killing of Walter Wallace, Jr.

Today we write, once again, with a heavy heart and an acknowledgment of unbearable pain and trauma that accompanies the loss of another Black man, a son and brother and father, someone who suffered with a mental illness, someone who needed help. These unnecessary deaths, the killing of Black people at the hands of law enforcement officers, and in Philadelphia, most recently Walter Wallace Jr., are not anomalies. This is not just an issue of “bad apples.” While these actions do not characterize every police officer, they are not confined to one department, one state, or one region. This is a pervasive and deadly and wholly unacceptable problem with the institution of policing in America.  Last night, I revisited the statement that my friend and colleague, Dr. David Pate, Chair of the UW-Milwaukee Helen Bader School of Social Welfare,  and I wrote at the beginning of this academic year in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. We wondered what we could write that was new, and that more fully captured the gravity and urgency of the problem. That more effectively gave attention to the tremendous losses that just keep happening. The words have been said—over and over—by so many people. Statements continue to be made. It feels like nothing changes, and that too many people just don’t care.

Dr. Pate and I have each been in the social work profession for more than 30 years, so perhaps our views are skewed by the networks of people to which we gravitate and with whom we regularly engage. But we do believe people care. We do believe that most people care and have had enough of this senseless violence that leads us nowhere and continues to devastate families and communities and society at large.  It is our great hope that meaningful change is coming, and we believe wholeheartedly that social work can and will play a significant role. But we must keep up the pressure for change, and we must continue to articulate a vision for the outcomes we seek and a roadmap for getting there.

With every election there are new possibilities, and new openings for change. We don’t know what the outcome will be next week, but we need to be prepared, whatever the outcome. Our efforts to continue pursuing and ultimately achieving social and economic and racial justice will be critically needed either way.  We will each process the results of this election and we will individually and collectively make plans for continued progress. But please also know that asking for help is okay. For some, especially our students, staff, and faculty of color, the stress of this election is overwhelming.  To our students, do not hesitate to reach out to our faculty and instructors, our school administrators, our advisors, our staff, and me. We will do all that we can to help you find the supports and resources you need.

In support and solidarity,

Kristen S. Slack, PhD
Professor, Interim Director, and PhD Program Chair
Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work
University of Wisconsin-Madison

David J. Pate, Jr., PhD
Associate Professor and Chair of the Social Work Department
Helen Bader School of Social Welfare
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee