Legislative Black Caucus: ‘We cannot afford to not change systems’
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Members of the state Legislative Black Caucus are hoping to use the momentum built by protests over the death of George Floyd to enact concrete policy changes to reform policing in Wisconsin.
“It is time that we do action,” Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D – Madison) said. “We cannot afford to not change systems.”
In a video conference with CBS 58, members of the Black Caucus said they are working with officials at the state and local level to reform issues around police training and accountability.
Sen. Lena Taylor (D – Milwaukee) said in the City of Milwaukee in particular, incidents where police violence leads to settlements, officials need to do a better job of learning from such events and put new policies in place.
“When we are given recommendations and we are given settlement agreements in court, then what we need to do is do those [recommendations].”
For proactive solutions, Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D – Milwaukee) wants to examine and review police use of force tactics and equipment in order to prevent situations where severe use of force or a weapon is required.
“Where is the requirement to use deescalation tactics in situations?” Johnson asked. “There’s no requirement.”
The lawmakers recognize the political realities of attempting to accomplish reform at the state and local level. The Legislature is controlled by Republicans and currently is not scheduled to return to session unless a special or extraordinary session is called. Sen. Taylor emphasized the importance of working alongside their GOP colleagues in 2021 to pass substantial laws at the state level, including building relationships with lawmakers like Sen. Van Wanggaard (R – Racine), a former police officer for several decades.
The caucus does have an ally in Gov. Tony Evers. Evers called for the Legislature to pass AB 1012, which would reform law enforcement policies. Sen. Taylor, however, said while she supports the bill, it’s likely not going anywhere anytime soon because the Legislature is not meeting again for the rest of the year. But some members expressed disappointment in response to comments the governor made to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, in which he said that, “the idea of completely disassembling police in the state or Milwaukee, I couldn't support,” in reference to the demands of some protesters to, “defund the police.”
“I wish [Gov. Evers] would’ve called some of us to ask what that meant,” Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D – Milwaukee) said.
Myers is the chair of the caucus and said the governor missed the point of the idea of defunding the police, adding that the demand is about prioritizing allocation of funds in local budgets.
“It’s not that you want to abolish all police departments because that’s unrealistic and we know that,” Myers said. “You need to divest. Maybe that’s the better word is not defund by divest. Divest and divert some of the city money.”
The lawmakers expressed optimism that the multiracial, multigenerational and multigeographical makeup of the protests can build momentum and don’t want extra vandalism or looting to distract from the main message.
“What they are saying is don’t be mad at what you’re seeing more than you’re mad at folks dying at the hands of police,” Rep. David Bowen (D – Milwaukee).
Watch the entire video conference here: