Freedom, Inc. wants to totally eliminate police departments and free almost everyone from prison
Programming by Freedom, Inc. “politicizes” kids, teaches them to use intimidation tactics and to vandalize public property
The radical non-profit received over $500,000 in grants in 2020 from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families
February 3, 2021
By Brett Healy
Freedom, Inc., a Madison-based non-profit with vocal anti-police beliefs, came into the spotlight recently after organizing protests and unrest in Madison last summer. It might have come as a shock to taxpayers when Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Daniel Bice revealed that this same non-profit had received $3.6 million in grants from the state of Wisconsin over the past five years.
With Freedom, Inc. playing a bigger role in public policy debates and protests, we looked for more information on their background, beliefs and tactics in the coverage they have received from the mainstream media. For some reason, the vast majority of the coverage of Freedom Inc. fails to mention their radical beliefs or document their aggressive tactics. So, as a public service, we have put together the information for you.
Freedom, Inc. Wants To Do Away With The Police And Believes Looting Is Justifiable
Freedom, Inc. hasn’t minced words about what they’re fighting for: taking police officers out of our schools, getting rid of police departments altogether, replacing the police with pleasant-sounding “community control,” and releasing almost all people from prison.
Many in the mainstream media have depicted the group and its goals as positive and peaceful. However, the mainstream media has missed or deliberately ignored the real nature of what Freedom, Inc. is trying to accomplish.
“We really want people to understand, we are not saying ‘defund the police’ or ‘abolish prisons’ and then put another system of punishment in place,” said Freedom, Inc.’s Executive Director, M. Adams, on a Facebook livestream in June.
“It’s not about ‘fire the one cop,’ or ‘get some training,’ or anything else like that. It’s about this long lineage of harm and domination in the name of white supremacy, in the name of patriarchy,” said Mahnker Dahnweih, Freedom, Inc.’s Community Power Building Coordinator, during the same livestream.
“We tried community policing. We tried black people building relationships with officers and officers building relationships with black people. We tried hiring officers of color. We tried more training for the police, and none of those things have been able to stop putting us in jail, to stop killing us, to stop sexually assaulting us, to stop harming our communities,” said Bianca Gomez, Freedom, Inc.’s Gender Justice Coordinator.
Freedom, Inc. believes it is “completely righteous, completely justified,” in Gomez’s words, to achieve their goals through property damage and looting in downtown Madison. They also believe that “a transformative ass-whoopin” is a justified way to deal with a community member who is targeting young children. As Gomez said in June “I think that’s revolutionary self-defense, I do not think that’s violence.”
“If you are black and you are a victim of racist terrorism, of white supremacy, of capitalist exploitation, of the active violence of this government, then you know the only way for you to survive is to take what you deserve,” yelled Adams in front of the Madison City-County Building on June 1st. “You stop murdering black people and your glass will be safe!”
“The people who own those buildings are fine, they’re okay, they’re alive still, they’re still here. Whatever is in those stores can be replaced. Glass and brick can be rebuilt. What cannot be replaced is a human life,” Dahnweih has said, referring to businesses that were looted on State Street in Madison over the summer.
These messages appear to guide much of the work that Freedom, Inc. does in the community and with kids.
What Does Freedom, Inc. Teach Kids?
A major portion of Freedom, Inc.’s services are directed towards kids and teens. Two of their programs for kids are the Freedom Youth Squad and the Freedom Youth Organizing Camp. The programs teach teens about civil disobedience, vandalism of public property, and how to disrupt local police.
Freedom Youth Squad
The Freedom Youth Squad has made a name for itself by using disruptive tactics, some might argue harassment, against those who disagree with them. One event hosted by the Freedom Youth Squad and Freedom, Inc. invites teens to call the Madison Police Department to “stop business as usual and make them hear us!” Promotional posters for the event refer to police as liars and pigs.
The Freedom Youth Squad may be known more, however, for their harassment of the Madison Board of Education and disruption of their meetings. For instance, during district budget proceedings in 2018, the Freedom Youth Squad blocked voting on the budget through an in-your-face, aggressive demonstration.
Kids and Freedom, Inc. organizers held up a sign that said “No Cops In Schools” while stamping their feet on the auditorium stage, screaming “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” and “F*ck the police!” This is one of the multiple times that the Freedom Youth Squad and Freedom, Inc. have disrupted school board meetings. At another 2018 school board meeting that the group crashed, a Freedom Youth Squad member threw and broke the cell phone of someone trying to record their disruptive behavior.
School Board adjourned the meeting after protesters made any further action unlikely. Vote on budget will have to come at later date. pic.twitter.com/jatQ7thl1k
— Logan Wroge 🧈 (@LWroge) October 30, 2018
The kids in the Freedom Youth Squad harass school board members outside of public hearings as well.
In June 2020, kids in the Freedom Youth Squad were responsible for painting “Police Free Schools” on West Dayton Street in front of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) administration building. Members were also responsible for preventing street cleaners from removing their “Police Free Schools” slogan off the street. That slogan alone cost the city around $8,000 to remove.
At that same event, the Freedom Youth Squad vandalized the walls of the MMSD administration building with chalk-drawn anti-police slogans, profanity and slurs. Phrases included “F*ck 12,” which is another way to say “f*ck the police.” Other phrases included “No justice no peace,” “Cops eat sh*t,” “Abolish police,” “community control,” and “restorative justice, transformative justice.”
Some of the kids drew phrases on the walls geared at School Board President Gloria Reyes, such as “Open your purse, Gloria” and “Gloria how do you sleep?”
These threats to Reyes are nothing new for Freedom, Inc. On June 4, the organization gathered at Reyes’ own home with bullhorns, demanding that Reyes terminate MMSD’s security contract with the Madison Police Department. Mahnker Dahnweih lead chants through a bullhorn saying “do you want your job, Gloria?” The mob later placed flags all over Reyes’ lawn that said “f*ck the police” and “f*ck 12.”
On June 9, Reyes announced that she was changing her position and would end the MMSD security contract with the Madison Police Department.
Freedom Youth Organizing Camp
Freedom, Inc.’s other operation for kids, the Freedom Youth Organizing Camp, hosts teens aged 12-18 for two weeks of day-camp activities. Camp programming teaches the kids how to be activists and protesters.
Freedom, Inc. promises to pay $200 to anybody who attends, but only if the child stays for the full 2 weeks of the camp.
The Director of Youth Organizing for Freedom, Inc., Zon Moua, describes the camp as “A place where they are able to come and be politicized, it’s a place where they are able to get leadership development.”
One teen left the 2020 Organizing Camp saying “I know Barack Obama did a camp like this, and he was the president. I’d want to run a protest.”
If the kids inevitably do start protests and rebel, like youth did during the rioting and looting on Madison’s State Street last summer, Freedom, Inc. doesn’t want adults getting in the way.
“We don’t want anyone down there that’s going to be policing the youth, that’s going to be saying ‘Hey wait, don’t do that. Do that. This will keep you safe, this won’t.’ If you are there to listen and take direction, stay and put your body in-between the youth and police,” said Mahnker Dahnweih during the Freedom, Inc. livestream in June.
This might explain why Freedom, Inc. did not condemn the severe beating of two good samaritans with 2x4s who tried to stop kids from looting businesses on State Street. According to a media account, “one of the men had his phone stolen and needed 12 stitches to his face. The other man suffered multiple broken bones.”
What Does Freedom, Inc. Teach Adults?
Freedom, Inc.’s programming isn’t focused only on kids. Much of their political programming is aimed at adults.
A page on the Freedom, Inc. website has an archived list of their political education videos. Topics covered by their panel include rebelling against policing and criminal justice, faux history lessons about the origins of police, why the police should be abolished, and LGBTQ+-lead “rebellions.”
Freedom, Inc. Youth Organizing Director, Zon Moua, describes the Freedom Youth Organizing Camp as “A place where they are able to come and be politicized.”
The videos teach lessons like “We all benefit from rebellion,” and that “The police’s function is to protect capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy.”
During a video titled “Queer Power Rising: Political Education and Action,” Dahnweih left teaching materials for viewers to use to educate students at school.
State Government Support Of Freedom, Inc.
Taxpayers might be surprised to learn that the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) has been giving grants to Freedom, Inc. for many years. Records delivered to MacIver show Freedom, Inc. was receiving DCF grants at least since 2015.
As you have seen above, what Freedom, Inc. advocates for online and in speeches is very aggressive, forceful, and radical. When Freedom, Inc. applies for grants from DCF, however, their mission statements take on a very different tone. In their grant program proposals, in fact, the group sounds quite compassionate and peace-loving.
“Freedom, Inc. works to end all forms of oppression—in which violence has its roots—as a means to ultimately ending violence against women and children,” says their 2020 project proposal for domestic violence survivors in the Khmer, Hmong, and black communities. “We link our organizing efforts with social services, crisis and criminal justice intervention, and legal aid, as powerful anti-violence tools.”
“We will provide direct services, advocacy, [domestic violence/sexual violence] education/trainings, while mobilizing and organizing victims and survivors for social change,” the program proposal says.
In 2020, DCF awarded Freedom, Inc. five grants for domestic violence services: one for general domestic abuse services, one for children, one for “underrepresented populations,” one for refugees and immigrants in the Hmong community, and one for refugees and immigrants in the Khmer community. These five grants totaled $542,585.
Funds from these specific grants pay for at least three cultural dance troupes for teens, a healing Cambodian Buddhist temple group, traditional clothing sewing groups for Hmong and Cambodian members, a group called People Like Us (PLUS) for the LGBTQ+ community, and a 50 Plus and Fabulous group for black women 50 years and older.
DCF Gives Freedom, Inc. Nothing But Praise
In 2017, a DCF worker inspected their worksite and left a glowing review. In the site visit letter, the worker praised Freedom, Inc.’s “gender and racial justice” work. They lauded their “story-telling, dance, and the arts” programs to address trauma, and their “vibrant and innovative” youth programming about “cultural norms, systems of oppression, and root causes” of oppression. The worker wrote that Freedom, Inc. was in total compliance with their grant contract.
In Freedom, Inc.’s 2016 program proposal for children’s domestic abuse services, Freedom, Inc. says their program will be successful if 40-50 teens attend their weekly group meetings and 30 attend workshops on the “root-causes of gender base violence.” Their program says “If there is an increase in analysis, terminology, and shared understanding amongst those we served this will be a great project success.”
In their 2020 domestic abuse services project proposal, Freedom, Inc. says their program will be successful if 20 weekly group meeting participants have at least 3 written safety plans by the end of the year. 10 weekly participants should “be able to identify 5 community/people/ resources at the end of the year,” and 5 weekly participants should be able to teach teens what Freedom, Inc. taught them.
Of the documents MacIver received from DCF, none recorded how many people came to weekly meetings and none of the documents we reviewed recorded how many people had developed written safety plans.
Freedom, Inc. also measures the success of their programs through client surveys that ask about what the individual has learned from Freedom, Inc.’s work. While that is an important measurement, it’s anecdotal and insufficient to measure the success of an organization that addresses domestic violence and sexual assault victims. We could not find any documented mention that Freedom, Inc.’s work had lead to a decrease in the number of domestic or sexual abuse incidents in Madison and Dane County.
Freedom, Inc. Is Expanding Their Influence Over Public Safety In Dane County
Freedom, Inc. started as a domestic violence and sexual assault service provider for marginalized populations. But in the last few months and years, Freedom, Inc. has begun spreading their reach to local politics in Dane County.
We discussed above, for example, how Freedom, Inc. and the Freedom Youth Squad received attention for disrupting one of MMSD’s 2018 school budget meetings and how School Board President Reyes changed her position after Freedom, Inc. protested at her house.
Freedom, Inc.’s impact on life and public policy in Dane County increased dramatically this past summer with the publicity they received for organizing protests after the death of George Floyd, leading marches that stopped traffic on the Beltline, and spreading their message of support for rioters and looters against police and arrest.
In defense of Black Life we demand Community Control! #DefundPolice #DefendBlackLife #FreeEmAll #CommunityControl pic.twitter.com/gyUAGCsquw
— Freedom, Inc. (@AboutFreedomInc) June 5, 2020
More photos of Madison's beltline highway, where traffic remains stopped for today's Black Lives Matter protest. pic.twitter.com/grks6lPtDs
— Shawn Johnson (@SJohnsonWPR) June 4, 2020
Now, Freedom, Inc. has demanded that they have a seat on the Madison Police Civilian Oversight Board so their anti-police beliefs will be represented. Members of the board will be able to order investigations on the Madison Police Department and its officers, make policy recommendations about the police force, and recommend that specific officers and police chiefs be dismissed from the Madison Police Force.
Freedom, Inc.’s Bianca Gomez has also taken a seat among those who will restructure MMSD’s new school safety plans. She has delivered a Freedom, Inc. proposal to the district’s School Safety and Security Ad Hoc Committee that would put a Freedom Inc. representative in charge of a committee run by kids who have previous records of being disciplined by the school district. The kids, along with four “trusted adults” would “Have complete decision-making power over school safety and accountability policies within the DISTRICT’s schools.” That includes unilateral power to remove any disciplinary policies that members think are discriminatory. The delinquent kids would also have the power to recommend firing a school employee who they believe unjustly called the police on a student. The proposal appears to have influenced the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations that the MMSD school board will discuss in mid-February.
We will continue to update our findings as we receive more responses to our open records requests.