It was only a few days ago, but it feels like a lifetime. On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks shocked the league – and the rest of the world – by outright refusing to play ball. They weren’t the only ones, but they were the first, and they earned some recognition for doing so.
"It is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality, and criminal justice reform."— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) August 27, 2020
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, @Bucks. https://t.co/TvIiVsmuHX
I commend the players on the @Bucks for standing up for what they believe in, coaches like @DocRivers, and the @NBA and @WNBA for setting an example. It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values. pic.twitter.com/rUGETgAt7P— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 27, 2020
We’ve been continuing to cover this story, not just because it affected the NBA, but because the Bucks included a specific call to action, directed at the Wisconsin State Assembly. The legislature has been (in)famously inactive for months, declining the opportunity to address the myriad of issues that affect Wisconsinites, Bucks players and fans included. They had a chance to address the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic (they chose not to), and now they have a chance to address the state’s response to social unrest caused by excessive force in law enforcement. Our job is to keep you informed, not just on what’s happening but what you can do.
Over the course of our updates on Twitter, we made reference to the package of bills that is reportedly on the agenda for the special session that starts on Monday, August 31. To our pleasant surprise, the state senate agreed to meet! And discuss police reform! The Bucks called, and the legislature answered...right?
We’re not meeting, we’re opening the session. We can’t vote on my package unless there is an extraordinary session, or the Governor amends the Special Session call. You can read my proposals here: https://t.co/jRsZtMkJdY— Van Wanggaard (@Vanwanggaard) August 29, 2020
Not quite. State Senator Van Wanggaard (Senate District 21, which covers a ton of space outside of Racine and Kenosha, as far west as Burlington) is the primary organizer of the bill package, and he clarified (directly to us) that they’re not meeting, they’re just opening the session. No, really. Senator Wanggaard said “We’re not meeting, just opening the session.” When asked why they’re not meeting, he responded:
Bills still have to go through the process.— Van Wanggaard (@Vanwanggaard) August 29, 2020
To his credit, Senator Wanggaard did directly link to the eight bills that will be a part of any discussion in the legislature, dubbed the “Public Safety PACT.” This octet of proposed legislation seeks to...do very little, based on my reading of the summaries provided by the Legislative Reference Bureau. But you don’t have to believe me, you can read them for yourselves! If you want a summary (with my own commentary), I posted it beneath each link below. If you want a higher-level summary, here’s what Jeramey Jannene of Urban Milwaukee has to say.
This is a trap for Milwaukee. The first item is already required, the second is standard operating procedure and the third would prevent city from ever cutting budget. https://t.co/tfWkzFSdPL— Jeramey Jannene (@compujeramey) August 26, 2020
This bill establishes an independent board whose purpose is to review serious injuries and deaths related to law enforcement officers. That sounds like a worthwhile effort, but the devil is in the details. The board can investigate “only after any mandatory or criminal investigation concludes,” which means the board will only act well after any incident that harms a citizen or officer. Furthermore, the board is comprised of 13 individuals, all of whom are appointed (not elected), and eight of those 13 members is appointed by a group of members of law enforcement! The board might be designed to be independent, but it’s difficult to imagine that the members will be.
This bill sets the standard for how police report incidents where use-of-force is applied, as well as prohibits punishment of any law enforcement officer for reporting use-of-force...which this bill makes mandatory. It’s a good rule to have, but enforcement of the rule is unclear (and a rule without consequences is essentially just a guideline, which are easy to ignore).
This bill mandates that each agency publishes its policy regarding use-of-force. This is an effort towards achieving transparency and, at first glance, seems like a good idea.
This is a long bill, and affects how municipal police and fire commission boards are built. I won’t try to summarize this one, but I encourage you to read through it and see if anything stands out.
This bill would fund community-oriented policing programs, making grants available for cities of 60,000 or more. This bill is remarkably short, considering the impact that community-oriented policing can have. But anything that moves in that direction is at least a good start.
This one is going to draw a lot of attention, and rightfully so. This bill would, if enacted, penalize any municipality that reduces their law enforcement budget by reducing “county and municipal aid payments” by the corresponding amount. So if, say, Kenosha cut their police budget by $5,000, the state would withhold $5,000 from the city of Kenosha. That’s a big deal, and seems to take local control away from citizens in favor of putting the state in charge, which is historically a stance not taken by conservatives.
This bill makes a rule that cops can’t use chokeholds, “except in life threatening situations or in self-defense.” That seems like a fair rule...which begs the question, how is it not already a rule?
This bill requires the state’s Department of Justice to publish an annual report on use-of-force in Wisconsin. Like making department policies available for public review, this is transparency in action and is a good idea.
We don’t know what the Wisconsin state senate is going to do on Monday, besides open the session that was called for by the Governor. Regardless of what they do, you can find your legislators, reach out to them, and let them know what you think about these bills. Do they go far enough? Do they go too far? Do they fall short? Don’t tell us...tell them.
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