A member of the Criminal Justice Management Council and head of the Citizen Police Advisory Committee resigned from her role Wednesday night saying she has been threatened and harassed after a local police union’s Facebook post about her.
Joella Striebel has been part of the Criminal Justice Management Council (CJMC) since 2017. She was asked to head a subcommittee to research establishing a Citizen Police Advisory Committee in La Crosse. The LaCrosse Professional Police Supervisor’s & Officer’s Association’s Facebook page shared a Facebook post that questioned her qualifications while showing private pictures from Striebel’s social media.
The post was removed, but not before being shared or criticized by members of the community. Citizens and members of the CJMC condemned the post during a monthly meeting Wednesday night.
Striebel spoke at the meeting in between public comments about the incident.
“I am very anxious,” she said. “I know that by speaking here tonight on this public platform, I am putting my family at further risk of harassment that has been ongoing and continued since that post was made.”
Striebel said until that point, her own experiences with law enforcement had been neutral to positive.
“My willingness to speak up and say things that might be uncomfortable or difficult to hear led to me being invited to serve on the council,” she said. “Serving on this council was supposed to be about working together toward a common goal. It was supposed to be about having challenging, ongoing conversations together to make improvements in our local justice system.”
She said the Facebook post by law enforcement negatively impacted her life, safety, and health in recent weeks.
“I’ve been singled out by law enforcement leaders and publicly identified as an enemy of the police,” she said. “The local police union somehow obtained and shared private Facebook photos of me and questioned my integrity and suggested I am not capable of rational thought. These photos have been shared over and over again, leaving me vulnerable to public scrutiny in a way that I could never have predicted or prepared myself or my family for.”
She acknowledged La Crosse Police Chief Shawn Kudron apologized for the incident but said it did little to counteract the harm.
“My family and I do not feel safe in our home,” Striebel said. “We do not feel safe moving about freely in our community. The Police did that.”
She believed it was two statements in particular that made her the target, but she said she still stands by those statements.
“I believe strong communities prove police obsolete. This was cast as hateful. A belief that our community can become strong enough to render policing as we know it today obsolete is not an expression of hate. On the contrary, it is an expression of a deep and abiding love for community and expression of faith in all of us that we can do better and we can be better for each other.”
She said that statement was mischaracterized as a claim that all cops themselves are violent and oppressive, however, she continued by saying that she believes all cops are bound to a system of violence and oppression.
“To deny this is to deny the very history and inception of policing and to deny the experiences of those across this country who continue to suffer disproportionately from harmful policing practices,” Striebel said. “Those who are black, indigenous, people of color LGBTQ+, those who are poor, those who are experiencing homelessness, those who are disabled, those who use drugs or experience mental health challenges, those who engage in sex work, and those who are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. I believe that all police are bound to a system of violence and oppression in the same way that I believe all white people, myself absolutely included, are bound to white supremacy and that all men are bound to toxic patriarchy.”
Striebel claimed her statements were not fringe ideas and were supported by research.
“The reactions by law enforcement to the exploration of community oversight of police and La Crosse demonstrated clearly just how urgently additional oversight is needed and inadequate the current system is at keeping civilians safe from police abuse of power,” she said.
Striebel said she could not serve this council authentically while preserving the safety of herself and her family, which was the reason why she chose to resign at Wednesday night’s meeting.
La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke serves as chair of the CJMC. He apologized personally to Striebel and said system members of the committee agreed that the police union’s post was over the line.
“I want the union to know that this is very intimidating to citizens,” Gruenke said. “This is not an example of ethical or professional behavior. The CJMC is founded on the idea that we bring people together who have different viewpoints. We discuss ideas professionally and politely, making our community better for everybody.”
Gruenke said it was clear the police union had a problem with the oversight committee Striebel was investigating, but he wanted to make it clear that the CJMC asked her to head that committee.
“She didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “She didn’t deserve to be treated that way. If the police union wants to build the trust of communities, they need to hear things that they don’t like without defensiveness or using power to defeat that criticism. If it did anything for me, it pointed out the fact that what we do need is something other than a police and fire commission because citizens have been intimidated at just the mere suggestion that there might be something that might criticize or hold police accountable.”
CJMC Vice-Chair Dr. Lisa Kruse said the council’s goal is to have an equitable contribution of voices around the table from citizens and practitioners.
“The last several years have been devoted to diversifying the representation on this council to provide better perspective and important contributions from marginalized voices,” Kruse said. “The attacks on one of our citizen members and the work of a subcommittee fundamentally threatened all this work. If this group wants citizen members around this table and contributing, there must be a renewed effort to elevate those voices and establish their importance.”
Also brought up during the meeting were previous encounters in which Assistant Police chief Rob Abraham disputed the need for a citizen oversight committee.
Several other individuals made comments in support of Striebel during the meeting. Some used the Zoom chat feature to encourage Chief Kudron to speak, but he did not give a statement.