Lt. Gov. Barnes on protests: ‘Time for structural change is now’

NOW: Lt. Gov. Barnes on protests: ‘Time for structural change is now’

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Following protests and unrest over the death of George Floyd, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes believes leaders at all levels of government should listen to the demands of protesters and act to reform the issues that have sparked the demonstrations.

Leaders from all across the country and all across the state should step up and understand what people are actually asking for,” Barnes told CBS 58 in a one-on-one interview. “And that’s accountability.”

Barnes is a Milwaukee native and only the second African-American to be elected to statewide office in Wisconsin.

The lieutenant governor recognizes the conflicting emotions over unrest that has led to destruction of property, vandalism and looting, but he hopes those actions don’t distract from the main message of the protests.

“It’s anger inducing to see the destruction,” Barnes said. “What’s worse is the persistence of the conditions that made this happen. This didn’t come out of nowhere.”

Noting that the death of George Floyd is only the most recent event of abuse of power by police towards black people, Barnes said generations pain and suffering by the community through relationships with the police have ignited action by protesters across the country.

“Communities across America were able to identify in some way with what happened to George Floyd,” Barnes said. “Be it their own adverse interaction with law enforcement or people that they knew.”

Barnes added that the emotions felt by protesters now is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as larger societal issues like health care, investment in communities of color and ability for persons of color to have a voice in government. Barnes says the next step in this process is reform.

“It’s not too much to ask our police forces to understand deescalation tactics, it’s not too much to ask police officers to treat people the same and not operate on what feels like a bias.”

Ultimately, much of the healing process between police and communities of color, Barnes believes, will depend largely on the willingness of law enforcement to do so.

“We have to get back to a place – or get to a place I should say, where there is trust where there is understanding and police departments across the country are going to have to show a want and a desire to work with neighborhoods and communities.”

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