Groups advocating for communities of color oppose current bills, demanding Democrats reject them. “Your scraps, your crumbs, are insulting,” said one advocate.
When the Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities was first formed, it brought to the table a lofty goal of addressing Wisconsin’s nation-worst racial disparities while proving “the government isn’t completely broken” and that both political parties could work together and “make significant change in people’s lives.”
But as an Assembly committee on Thursday discussed some of the task force’s proposals on police reform, several groups representing the communities of color who stand to be most affected by any police-related bills gathered to send a message: The task force proved nothing and isn’t proposing anything that will make a true impact for people of color.
“Do better. Start over,” said Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), a Milwaukee-based Black voter mobilization group. “Your scraps, your crumbs, are insulting.”
A number of bipartisan police reform bills are currently making their way through the Legislature, some from the task force and others yet from Sens. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Van Wanggaard (R-Racine). All have yet to pass both chambers before heading to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for a signature, but advocates said they hope he will veto any that do.
None of the bills stand to make the sort of transformative changes demanded by protesters throughout the last year after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
Rather, the bills stand to make largely incremental changes—such as increasing data collection on the controversial no-knock warrant tactic, partially banning chokeholds, or making police departments’ use-of-force policies publicly available online—that advocates and some Democratic lawmakers have said don’t do nearly enough to address issues affecting communities of color.
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Other proposals would establish grant programs for community-oriented policing (COP) houses like those seen in Racine, body camera purchases, and crisis intervention training. By providing grants, advocates said at Thursday’s press conference, the bills only serve to throw more money at police departments that already enjoy bloated budgets.
The bill most commonly singled out by the advocates was Senate Bill 117, one of the Taylor-Wanggaard bills. It would force changes upon Milwaukee and Madison’s police and fire commissions and give police direct power over their own oversight boards by letting the police unions pick one board member; the union-picked member in Milwaukee would also hold one of three seats on the panel that reviews complaints against officers.
“We can’t support these bills because we’re not going to waste more funding on a tried and failed approach,” said Maya Neal, political director for Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), a youth of color-led advocacy group. “Any legislation that doesn’t take power away from the police and the carceral system is unacceptable and will only continue to perpetuate the harm that keeps us suffering as a community and as a state.”
In the press conference, representatives of BLOC, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, LIT, and the Hmong American Women’s Association (HAWA) urged all Democratic legislators to vote against the current slate of bipartisan police bills and stressed Evers should veto any that make it to his desk.
Evers’ office did not respond to a request for comment. The offices of Reps. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) and Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), the co-chairs of the Task Force on Racial Disparities, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last year, Evers and fellow Democrats proposed a police reform package that included bans on no-knock search warrants and chokeholds, requirements for additional annual use-of-force and de-escalation training for officers, and grants for community organizations that work to prevent and interrupt violent crime. Republicans declined to vote on those bills and formed the task force instead.
Few Democrats have cosponsored the task force’s bills beyond Stubbs. Rep. Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee), who co-chaired a subcommittee of the task force focused on education and economic disparities, has not cosponsored a single one of the task force’s proposals. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
Stubbs and Taylor have publicly acknowledged their proposals do not directly address many common demands from protesters over the last year, but they have argued that a little progress is better than none.
“Within our seven months we captured as much as we could to come forward with,” Stubbs said in a meeting last week.
Lang rejected those arguments and called the bills “an attempt to placate the years of organizing that we have done.”
“I don’t know about you, but I ain’t come this far to only come this far,” Lang said.