Gov. Scott Walker offered something worse than deafening silence on Donald Trump’s unconscionable policy of tearing infants, toddlers, and children from their parents and placing them in 21st-century internment camps when he said he wouldn’t comment on a “federal” issue.
Forty-eight hours later, when the governor traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Donald Trump, he still felt no obligation to speak out against the human rights violation occurring on our border against children. Instead, he has been fundraising off of Facebook ads on the need to build the border wall and sending Wisconsin National Guard troops to the border.
Make no mistake, Walker’s cruel, political calculus on “baby jails” is the culmination of a 25-year pattern of indifference and hostility to children of color that he has displayed during his lifetime in elected office.
When comparing Scott Walker’s record with Scott Walker’s focus-grouped talking points, it is obvious he and Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker are paying lip service to real areas of need like trauma-informed care.
Before Walker stood with Donald Trump on indefinitely detaining immigrant children and their families fleeing violence, we must not forget that he codified the separation of young men and women from their families, and failed to speak against the cruel and immensely unjust separation of children from their families during the nearly decade-long saga of cruelty at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. In his tenure as Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker has unequivocally failed to be a steward to children less privileged than his.
Six years ago, Scott Walker received a letter from a Racine County judge detailing the horrific conditions at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. The governor did not act. As details continued to pour out, and the traumatic experiences in the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities continued to pile up, Walker did nothing until the crisis came to a head during an election year.
When news broke that a 16-year-old inmate had his arm broken by a guard, was left naked in his cell for hours and then waited a week for proper medical treatment, Scott Walker was silent. When three institutional psychologists left the institution for malpractice, Scott Walker was silent. And, when inmates at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake told former Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Wall: “They’re hurting us. They’re harming us,” Scott Walker was silent. Eventually, Walker’s hand was forced by a federal investigation from the Department of Justice and a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The traumas children endured at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake in many instances were preceded and compounded by traumas they endured in communities that Walker has overseen. A 2016 study demonstrated that children exposed to adverse childhood experiences have an extremely high likelihood of ending up in the juvenile justice system. There is a reason why a 2014 study declared that Wisconsin is the worst state to raise a black child. From the state having one of the nation’s largest academic achievement gaps for children of color, to Dane County having the highest disparity in maternal mortality rate between black and white women, and one of the nation's highest infant mortality rates for black infants; these are all indicators of a crisis in a community that Scott Walker has either shown contempt for or neglected.
Whether we are talking about the grotesque Trump-created crisis on the border, or about young people in Wisconsin being shipped and incarcerated hundreds of miles from their families and communities, the biological impact on children and young people from these traumatic experiences is undeniable. The toxic stress created by these environments and the severing of parental bonds at younger ages can exacerbate depression, anxiety, and other trauma-related symptoms.
Time after time, Scott Walker has failed to stand and act with moral clarity against the unjust treatment of children in crisis. His cowardice in these moments will be his legacy.
Savion Castro is a research associate at One Wisconsin Now and student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in sociology.
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