Wisconsinites have, for months, been crying out for legislative action to address police shootings, but the Legislature’s response has been a shameful inaction.
The outcry intensified Aug. 23, after a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer. It grew even louder after a white vigilante, who had been allowed by police to roam Kenosha’s streets, shot and killed two protesters on Aug. 25. Yet, on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, again blocked action on policing reforms in a special session demanded by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
The November election can change some of the dynamics in this dysfunctional Legislature. But Wisconsinites still need a plan for action. That’s why a group of legislative candidates are looking to break the gridlock with a strategy for working with mass movements to amplify demands for fundamental change.
“What we’re saying is: Look, this isn’t working anymore,” says Francesca Hong, who last month won the Democratic primary for the open Assembly seat representing Madison’s 76th District. Hong wants to “give people hope that democracy still works.” But for that to be more than false hope, she explains, there has to be a plan for making real change that is inspired by Wisconsinites who know that systemic racial must be addressed.
To that end, Hong is working with candidates across the state to organize around a statement that declares, “As candidates for the Wisconsin State Legislature, we are calling on a multi-level, coordinated response to immediately address the plague of systemic and institutional violence perpetrated against BIPOC and other marginalized communities, and will hold accountable, through a coalition of common interests, those persons, entities, and institutional bodies that fail to move forward actionable solutions to aid the situation at this moment.”
After the shooting of Jacob Blake, state Senate candidate Ed Vocke — a Democrat running in northern Wisconsin’s 12th District — tweeted, “I'm calling a summit to get to work on change right now. We have too much work to do to sit around and wait until November 3rd for things to change. I'm looking to you @KristinaAD90 @nadaelmikashfi @Hong4assembly and any others who are ready to come together in this moment.”
Vocke got immediate responses from Hong; Kristina Shelton who just won a Democratic primary in northeast Wisconsin’s 90th Assembly District; and Nada Elmikashfi, who ran a strong race for the Democratic nomination in the Madison area’s 26th Senate District. In less than 48 hours, they were circulating the letter that has also been signed by Assembly District 48 candidate Samba Baldeh, Senate District 16 candidate Melissa Sargent and Senate District 26 candidate Kelda Roys.
More candidates, officials and activists are signing daily, as are voters who know that change can’t wait.
This week, Shelton, Vocke, Elmikashfi and Hong are circulating a detailed call to action. More on that soon!
No person, institution, or organization is above the law or reproach. The evening of August 23rd, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin is another example of the utter failure to address, in earnest, the crisis confronting our Black communities in Wisconsin. It has shown us all yet another example of how the continued failure to act falls on the lives of the communities whom the state of Wisconsin is meant to serve. As candidates for the Wisconsin State Legislature, we are calling on a multi-level, coordinated response to immediately address the plague of systemic and institutional violence perpetrated against BIPOC and other marginalized communities, and will hold accountable, through a coalition of common interests, those persons, entities, and institutional bodies that fail to move forward actionable solutions to aid the situation at this moment.
We are past the point of studies on public health initiatives, band-aid reforms, or the theatrical creation of Special Sessions that will be gaveled in and out without consideration by the current State Legislature. Systemic racism is a public health crisis and should be declared as such. Therefore, we must reimagine, rework, and reconfigure a new, more equitable, anti-racist infrastructure. Proactive solutions by entities outside of law enforcement, including municipal, county, and state-level institutions, community organizations, nonprofits, and labor unions should be charged with the reconfiguration of assets and the prioritization of action, legislation and community mobilization.
Together, we stand with protesters and recognize their right to assemble in advocacy for systemic change, while also understanding that the process in and of itself is a necessary act of mourning. We look to our elected officials across all levels of local and state government as well as our diverse community leaders and members to guide us forward. We will hold accountable our elected officials, including Mayors, City Councils, County Boards, and School Boards, and call on them to act immediately to directly dismantle racism and white supremacy as a public health crisis and to take the budgetary and legislative initiatives necessary to immediately suppress any further violence against Black and marginalized communities. Under the purview of Governor Evers and the Wisconsin Constitution, we advise for the use of the immediate removal of any insubordinate, ineffective, or negligent county elected official—including District Attorneys and County Sheriffs, provided to the Governor with authority in [ss.17.001, 17.06 (3), and 17.09 (5), Stats.]
We call on our legislative leaders in both the Assembly and State Senate leadership to demonstrate allyship and solidarity at this moment and to use their powers to further all proactive steps, including the denouncement of the use of facial recognition surveillance technologies, chemical agents, and violence against peaceful protesters. We stand with EO 84.
We demand transparency and open communication between local Police Unions, their umbrella organizations, and local government officials.
Our commitment to immediate change, calls for a signing of this letter in the petition by any person, organization, or institution that stands by this commitment to social justice herein, and calls on all to assemble with us in an immediate and broad coalition to bring together the necessary change now.
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John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and @NicholsUprising.
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