Brandi Grayson

Brandi Grayson speaks at a December rally of the Young Gifted and Black Coalition. Grayson and the coalition responded Tuesday to a blog post from Madison Police Chief Mike Koval that criticized the group's demands that police take a less active role in poor neighborhoods.

M.P. KING -- State Journal

Madison’s Young Gifted and Black Coalition responded Tuesday to Police Chief Mike Koval’s criticism of the group, saying the department’s role in perpetuating racial disparities “warrants serious attention.”

Koval blasted the coalition in a blog post on Monday, taking issue with an open letter from the group that called for a reduced police presence in poor and minority neighborhoods.

He also said he was tired of the group blaming his department for racial disparities in Madison and called for changes at the state level to reduce bias in the criminal justice system.

In response to Koval’s post, coalition members said in a statement, “We understand that MPD is not the only contributor to racial disparities in Madison.” But they contended, “Current policing practices have played a major role in racial disparities” and should be addressed.

During a rally Tuesday outside the City-County Building, coalition member Brandi Grayson sought to clarify the group’s position on police interaction with minorities.

Koval’s blog post criticized the coalition for saying they wanted police to have “no interaction” with residents of poor and minority neighborhoods. Grayson said the group’s goal is for those areas to be policed the same way white ones are.

In white neighborhoods, she said, residents “experience little to no police contact.” People living in poor and minority neighborhoods, meanwhile, are followed, stopped and harassed by police, the group said, making it more likely they will be arrested for offenses that might go unpunished in other areas.

“We’ve lived the experience that more police contact means more arrests — feeding the racial disparities in incarceration rates,” coalition members said in a statement.

Koval denied that officers harass people in poor neighborhoods and said the department is trying to work constructively with residents in challenged parts of the city.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.