On Nov. 23, protesters gathered outside Milwaukee City Hall to demand that the Common Council not to vote in favor of a $9.7 million federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant, which would fund the hiring of 30 additional police officers for three years.
The Finance and Personnel Committee voted 3-2 in favor of accepting the grant after Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa changed her vote from “against” to “in favor” unexpectedly. In a press release, Zamarripa justified her change in vote by stating that the city is broke due to the Republican legislature, and as a result they are not in a place to turn down money. She claimed that the grant would allow tax dollars to be put toward other things, although community activists have emphasized that so much of the city’s budget should not be put aside for law enforcement to begin with.
“Common Council, say no to cops!” the protesters chanted. “Fund the people, not the police!”
Already 45.4 percent of Milwaukee’s city budget goes toward the police. Organizers across the city, including The People’s Revolution and Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, have been demanding since late May that the police budget be drastically reduced to 25 percent, and that the remaining funds be allocated to public resources such as community programs and affordable housing. While this grant is earmarked and not budget money, its approval would directly contradict the community’s demands.
“Frankly it’s a slap in the face to all the victims of police brutality and their family members that they would continue to propose that we accept more money for the police, even though the community has been coming out in large numbers and emailing and calling their local politicians asking them to defund the police,” said Alexa Nutile of Party for Socialism and Liberation Milwaukee. “This city is already over-policed.”
Activists note that without any accountability, police are responsible for a great deal of violence, mass incarceration and oppression in Milwaukee and its surrounding neighborhoods. At least eight Black and Brown people have been killed by police officers in the Milwaukee area since 2014. The police have not been held accountable. An example is Joseph Mensah of the Milwaukee suburb Wauwatosa, who is responsible for the killings of three innocent men over the course of five years — Antonio Gonzales in 2015, Jay Anderson in 2016 and Alvin Cole this past February. He was recently cleared of all charges in Cole’s murder and allowed to walk free, sparking massive calls for justice.
“More police funding means more state-sponsored terrorism,” said Christiaan Cocroft of PSL Milwaukee. “It’s not surprising that the Common Council would do this, since they’re a part of this functioning capitalist society. The police are part of the state apparatus designed to protect the ruling class and lying politicians like [Wauwatosa Mayor] Dennis McBride, [Milwaukee Mayor] Tom Barrett and [Wisconsin Governor] Tony Evers. That funding should go towards hunger, housing and schools because these things are basic human rights.”
Zapata of The People’s Revolution told Liberation News: “During a pandemic the last thing we need is more funding for police, while the health department has 60 unfilled positions. The city should focus their time on finding grants that will help our community and prioritize their constituency. The city council loves to make statements in support of funding police but are suspiciously quiet during the deaths [by police] of Joel Acevedo, Dontre Hamilton and Sylville Smith.”
The Common Council decided unanimously to table the grant’s approval until their next meeting cycle, which is slated for Dec. 15. If the grant does not get approved, the Milwaukee Police Department anticipates removing about 120 personnel. Citizens are encouraged to call or email their Alderperson and tell them to reject the COPS grant. Milwaukee does not need more cops!