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Police and Fire Commissioner Freeman resigns amid controversy

Police and Fire Commissioner Freeman resigns amid controversy

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Rev. Mark Freeman

The Rev. Mark Freeman of Racine’s Second Missionary Baptist Church speaks during a Feb. 25, 2011, prayer vigil for Wisconsin at Monument Square.

RACINE — Police and Fire Commisioner J. Mark Freeman resigned after meeting with Mayor John Dickert, the mayor confirmed late Friday afternoon.

“After a thoughtful and far-reaching conversation with Mayor John Dickert, Bishop J. Mark Freeman has submitted a letter of resignation from the Police & Fire Commission,” a release from the Mayor’s office said. “His primary goal, Mr. Freeman said, was to protect the reality and appearance of the unbiased decision-making of the Commission.”

Freeman, a pastor at Second Missionary Baptist Church, had come under fire in recent days after controversial social media posts from his accounts came to light. In one of the posts, a police officer is depicted wearing a pointed white hood while aiming a gun at a black youth.

In his letter of resignation, Freeman thanked the mayor for the opportunity to serve Racine and offered support for local law enforcement.

“I will continue to pray for the brave men and women who serve our community and put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis and for those whom they serve, that peace, calm and reconciliation will be the order of the day,” Freeman wrote.

Dickert appointed Freeman to the commission in April, and his appointment was approved by the City Council without discussion. The mayor said Freeman’s resignation resulted from more than one conversation.

“Commissioner Freeman and I have been talking about this over the last couple of days,” Dickert said. “He understands that this could bleed into the hearings of the Police and Fire Commission and the work they’re trying to do. I give him a lot of credit.”

On Thursday, the Racine Police Association and the Staff Officer’s Association said they were in the process of filing a complaint to remove Freeman from the commission. In a joint statement released shortly after Freeman’s resignation, the organizations said they appreciated his decision.

“Bishop Freeman is dedicated to this community, and his decision was clearly rooted in the community’s best interests,” the statement read.

Community discussions likely

Both Dickert and the RPA expressed a desire to have community discussions about the underlying tensions expressed by Freeman’s controversial posts.

“(Dickert) plans to schedule ongoing conversations among citizens, churchmen (including Bishop Freeman), police and himself,” the statement from Dickert’s office read.

The police unions’ statement acknowledged that some members in the Racine community may have similar views to those expressed in Freeman’s posts.

“We look forward to working with him as part of continuing dialogue to strengthen the relationship between Racine’s law enforcement officers and all of the people they have sworn to serve,” the statement read.

Complaint process

If the police association had gone through with the complaint, it would be the first one some of the city’s longest tenured employees can recall.

“We’ve not had a complaint filed against any commission/board/committee, to my knowledge, in my 10-plus years with the city,” City Attorney Scott Letteney wrote in an email.

Neither Third District Alderman Michael Shields, who was first elected in 1989, nor 10th District Alderman and Council President Dennis Wiser could recall any such a complaint, either.

If a complaint had been filed, Letteney said, it would not necessarily have needed to come from an official organization like the Police Association. It would not have even needed to come from a resident of Racine, just someone who believed they had been “aggrieved” by the appointed official, Letteney said.

That complaint then would have gone to the City Council, which would have had to approve any removal by a three-fourths vote.

“Commissioner Freeman and I have been talking about this over the last couple of days. He understands that this could bleed into the hearings of the Police and Fire Commission and the work they’re trying to do. I give him a lot of credit.” — Racine Mayor John Dickert said of Freeman’s resignation.

"Commissioner Freeman and I have been talking about this over the last couple of days. He understands that this could bleed into the hearings of the Police and Fire Commission and the work they’re trying to do. I give him a lot of credit." 

— Racine Mayor John Dickert said of Freeman's resignation. 

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