The University of Wisconsin Police Department (UWPD) engaged in a heated exchange on Twitter Monday with Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Chair Matthew Mitnick, after the department’s official account lashed out at Mitnick for perceived inconsistencies in his views.
Also on Tuesday, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank told Mitnick she was backing out of her scheduled appearance to speak at Wednesday night’s ASM meeting, citing a scheduling conflict after Mitnick added time for a student activist group to speak before the Chancellor.
Mitnick, who was ASM chair during the council's Aug. 29 vote of no-confidence against UWPD, came out publicly in support of defunding the on-campus police force on his personal Twitter account.
In response, UWPD’s official twitter account questioned the consistency of Mitnick’s statement, drawing an equivalency between his publicly stated position and that of ASM — the organization which he chairs.
District 8 Alder Max Prestigiacomo and District 5 County Board Supervisor Elena Haasl stepped in, both calling out the UWPD for their response to Mitnick.
“When will you start taking this seriously? You seem to be only concerned with refuting the demands of the BIPOC coalition and its allies. Why are you acting surprised we need to demand extremes when you can't even make [an] incremental change?” Prestigiacomo replied.
UWPD spokesman Marc Lovicott defended UWPD’s engagement, stating that they were entirely within their rights to challenge Mitnick. “Mr. Mitnick's statement on Twitter today goes against everything he has previously told UWPD in prior meetings — he has stated multiple times previously that he and ASM have no plans to move forward with an effort to try and defund and/or abolish UWPD,” he said.
He also cited concerns that disinformation surrounding UWPD is running rampant across social media, which Lovicott and UWPD have tried to address through the use of a social media campaign. That said, Lovicott and UWPD were of the belief that they couldn’t stand idly by after Mitnick’s tweet.
“Over the last few weeks, UWPD has worked to share information about our department in an effort to clear up misinformation, accusations, and falsehoods that have been primarily shared on social media. Last week, we started a social campaign called #KnowUWPD,” Lovicott stated. “While we will continue to move forward with this approach, we've also come to a place in which we can no longer just sit back and continue to watch misinformation and false statements being shared about UWPD.”
However, students and alumni that responded to the department’s tweet expressed a much different view of the UWPD’s “social campaign.”
After responding directly to UWPD on twitter, Mitnick partnered with Ald. Prestigiacomo and County Board Sup. Haasl to publish a letter addressed to Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UWPD Chief Kristan Roman expressing disdain for the UWPD’s social media conduct highlighting the previously stated list of demands to the University from the University of Wisconsin BIPOC Student Coalition.
“These instances of lobbying, pressuring and gaslighting students are not indicative of motivations to listen,” the letter reads. “Since UWPD refuses to adhere to the requests of the student community, we demand that they leave campus.”
Mitnick also reiterated the separation between his personal views and ASM’s public stances, including in a conversation with the Cardinal on Monday evening.
“My Twitter account clearly notes in my bio that ‘Opinions are my own.’ My personal beliefs are always and should be open to criticisms — but not as an aspect of the dialogue between ASM and UWPD,” Mitnick said. “I sometimes post content supporting the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team on my personal twitter. That doesn't mean that due to my role, ASM as an organization supports the Dodgers.”
Lovicott acknowledged this aspect of the disagreement, and responded by defending UWPD’s stance, though police department representatives, unlike Mitnick, did not use a personal account to do so.
“Mr. Mitnick is certainly entitled to his own opinion — however, as the chair of ASM, his opinion matters and holds significant weight. We certainly have the right to share our opinions as well and set the record straight about our department and our efforts,” he stated.
Chancellor backs out of ASM meeting with BIPOC Coalition, cites scheduling conflict
Since the conclusion of Mitnick’s exchange with UWPD on Twitter, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank pulled out from her meeting with ASM scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening, citing a scheduling conflict. Mitnick had scheduled an appearance of the UW BIPOC coalition at this meeting.
Though UW spokesperson Meredith Mcglone said she could not comment on whether or not the presence of the BIPOC coalition affected Chancellor Blank’s decision to attend, both Mitnick and UWBIPOC Coalition spokesperson Tarah Stangler believe that it had an effect.
“It is our belief that Chancellor Blank doesn’t want to answer to any direct criticisms,” Stangler told the Cardinal. “She also doesn’t seem to want to take responsibility for the actions of her administration or, now, of her police department.”
Stangler cited Chancellor Blank’s sustained unwillingness to meet with the BIPOC coalition as a huge impediment to their ability to amplify voices of students of color on campus, noting that while the meeting was pre-scheduled for her, Blank still backed out.” Stangler sees Blank’s refusal to meet with the coalition as an attempt to “shuffle” their voices into University sanctioned channels.
Additionally, Stangler expressed frustration with UWPD, and their rocky relationship with the BIPOC coalition. In a Tuesday morning email, Lovicott invited the BIPOC coalition to have a discussion: “If members of the BIPOC coalition request a meeting, we will certainly welcome that request.”
In response to this statement, Stangler expressed doubt at the willingness of UWPD to engage in constructive dialogue, referencing the interaction between the UWPD and Mitnick.
“If they really wanted to have these conversations, and have a collaborative effort, they wouldn’t have just tarnished a relationship that was already fragile by directly calling out an individual student on their own private account,” she said.
ASM’s meeting for 7:00 p.m. tonight will convene on Zoom, and UW-BIPOC will still make its scheduled appearance.