Milwaukee’s crime rate has been on the rise lately, and Milwaukee’s Black community is facing the worst of it. Under President Ashanti Hamilton’s leadership, the city council’s Public Safety Committee is holding a series of special meetings to examine the problem.
The first meeting was held on Monday, June 6, where council members heard testimony from the Milwaukee Police Department. The second meeting in this special series was held on Friday, June 10, and tempers flared quickly as Council members heard from Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who is seeking re-election in the August 9 primary.
Shortly after Chisholm’s opening statement, southside Alderman Mark Borkowski starting taking shots at the DA, repeating right-wing talking points. He accused Chisholm of trying to “bamboozle” the committee by using facts and data. Borkowski is well-known for having said he proudly takes his cues from Craig Peterson and Eric O’Keefe, right-wing activists that have provided much of the secret dark money used to elect Scott Walker and his allies.
Chisholm fired back and noted that under his leadership, the District Attorney’s office is recognized as a national leader in criminal justice reform. Since being elected in 2006, Chisholm has had a 95% conviction rate in homicide cases, and is known as a tough prosecutor. However, he’s also been criticized for choosing not to charge the officer in the Dontre Hamilton murder, saying he didn’t believe could prove the case, as Dontre had taken the officer’s baton at the point that he was shot. Less known about Chisholm is that during his tenure, he has charged 60 police officers with misconduct and crimes, holding many officers accountable for crossing the line.
Under Chisholm, the African-American incarceration rate is down 10%, with 2,500 fewer Black Milwaukee County residents in prison, and he has stopped charging the small non-violent drug crimes that send too many to prison, instead focusing on treating drug and alcohol addiction as a public health problem and working with alternatives to incarceration and diversion programs.
Chisholm has also increased community partnerships with various programs and organizations, including working with several Milwaukee-area domestic violence shelters. One example is the new Sojourner Family Peace Center on Walnut Street, which uses a one-of-a-kind comprehensive justice model to house holistic domestic violence services under one roof.
Chisholm has also worked closely with the Benedict Center Sisters Diversion Program as an alternative to arrest and prosecution of the city’s sex workers and human trafficking victims.
Another way Chisholm has improved criminal justice administration is by diligently growing the Community Prosecution Unit (CPU), which embeds prosecutors at district police stations or other areas where they proactively address issues important to the surrounding residents, rather than just charging crimes.
Earlier this year, Chisholm told Urban Milwaukee, “The CPU can actually see the impact of the work they’re doing. On the flip side, they can see the challenges too, which is just as important.”
Chisholm’s opponent, Verona Swanigan, is also actively working with right wing activist Peterson, as she tries to follow the Sheriff Clarke model of getting elected with support primarily from white suburbanites.
She has no experience as a prosecutor or in criminal justice policy, and recently had to withdraw from all her cases saying she was “significantly … mentally impaired.” Community activists like Martha Love have labeled her a “fake Democrat,” who is “lying to the people of Milwaukee,” and said she is “totally unqualified to be the district attorney.” It seems that Borkowski is coordinating with Swanigan and is using his position on the Public Safety Committee to launch false attacks on Chisholm.
This special series of Public Safety Committee meetings will continue with more testimony according to the following schedule:
June 20: Attorney General’s office
June 24: Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department
June 27: Judges of the Circuit and Municipal Court
July 8: Wisconsin Department of Corrections
July 11: Milwaukee County Office on Mental Health and the City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention.