On March 11, a new bill, referred to as SB-119 or the “Fund the Police Bill,” was discussed in the Wisconsin legislature at a public hearing in Madison. Under this bill, cities and towns that make any decreases to local police budgets would have money deducted from the amount each municipality receives from the state budget. In addition, the amount taken from these municipalities would be distributed to those that did not take any money from their police budget.
Pro-police policies like this are an effective counter to any kind of legislative reforms aimed at defunding, restructuring or creating community control of the police. Due to the conservative nature of Wisconsin politics, very few have spoken out against the proposal. Milwaukee County Supervisors Ryan Clancy and Joseph J. Czarnezki have been among few elected officials to actively oppose the bill.
“Milwaukee residents have expressed clearly that their budget priorities are not law enforcement, but investment areas which are proven to improve our community: social infrastructure, parks, mental health, education and economic development. This would deny them that twice over,” Clancy stated in a shared news release with Czarnezki, who went on to say, “This proposed legislation that originated from elected representatives who claim to champion the idea of local control suggests that their goal is not consistent policy but punishment and coercion.”
With almost 50% of Milwaukee’s budget going to policing, and another $9 million being injected into the department via the COPS grant, the people of Milwaukee are wondering how a legislative mandate requiring the annual rise of municipal police budgets will help address their pressing human needs. As it stands, Milwaukee is rated one of the top worst cities in the United States for Black people, and Black and Brown communities are severely overpoliced, with the vast majority of arrests, fines and incarcerations occurring in Milwaukee’s hypersegregated neighborhoods. The city’s budget already puts precedence on employing police and paying their pensions over the well-being of the people who need it most. Now, SB-119 would set this highly uneven budgetary distribution in stone.
“Working-class people don’t need more police, and neither do those in poverty. We desperately need support!” Kamila Ahmed, an organizer with The People’s Revolution of Milwaukee, told Liberation News. TPR has been working with Clancy, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and other local organizations, to bring attention to bills like this.
Devin Anderson, the lead organizer of the African-American Round Table offered some insight in his testimony at the hearing as to the exclusivity of the legislative process so far related to SB-119.
“The legislation process has not been very open. The fact that to testify you had to go to Madison is an exclusionary for many people. It is not a bill that I have heard any elected officials that represent Milwaukee or Madison [both cities have ongoing defund campaigns] call for,” Anderson told Liberation News.
Omar Flores, an organizer with the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist Political Repression, told Liberation News: “They are brushing it off like it’s nothing. At their ‘hearing’ last week, it is clear that they are only consulting with landlords and business owners in a serious way. They are not there to have an intellectual discussion on how to keep people safe, they are looking to fight for their own interests. They are looking to protect the police, who in turn protect the rich.”
Wisconsin’s legislature is largely dominated by Republican-minded bodies, who blatantly disregard Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. It is likely this bill will go to Gov. Evers’ desk, where we will see whether the Democratic governor will please police lobbyists or grassroots constituents.
Video from the hearing can be seen here.
Featured photo: Wisconsin State Capitol Building. Photo credit: Vijay Kumar Koulampet (CC BY-SA 3.0)