By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The collective cry of “Si se puede” rang through City Hall on July 5, 2017 during a rally organized by Voces de la Frontera in protest over the changes made to Milwaukee’s Police Department’s Standard Operating Procedure. The changes, effective on July 6, 2017, were made in order to foster a safer and more sustainable atmosphere, but in doing so excluded members of the Milwaukee community, specifically undocumented ones. In the original policy, officers could only ask for an individual to disclose their immigrations status if relevant. As part of the recently updated policy, officers are mandated to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regardless if the individual is convicted or charged.
According to protesters and speakers, when an undocumented person felt nervous revealing their status, the end result was an unsafe environment that spread fear and more crime going unreported. The group gathered to remind the Mayor of his promise to support immigrants, a stance he told them he continues to stand by.
Community members said they felt betrayed by the mayor as they were an instrumental part in getting him elected, according to Walter Garron, union representative for United Food and Commercial Workers. Despite having less than 24 hours of notice, through the quick work of Voces de la Frontera (VDLF), The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Alderman José Pérez, the rally came into operation.
The group consisted of individuals eager to show their support with t-shirts, signs and their mere presence. Signs were on display in both English and Spanish. Voces De La Frontera handed out signs that said “Wisconsin is not Arizona,” and “No Hate In Our State.” Other homemade signs included “Stand up to Trumps [sic] politics of hate and discrimination” and “Alcalde Barret no traiciones a la comunidad” (Mayor Barret do not betray the community).
Darryl Morin officially began the rally as protesters assembled themselves behind the podium and proudly displayed their signs. He introduced Alderman Pérez as the first speaker, and a vital part of alerting Voces De La Frontera to policy changes and organizing a meeting to discuss them.
During his speech, Alderman Pérez expressed his concerns with the policy changes including the fact that no one had been forewarned. His words urged officials to reexamine their policy.
According to Pérez, a good policy makes sense, ensures safety and security and solves the problem not worsens it. He called the city to come together and find a suitable policy that works for everyone. “Stop scapegoating our community,” Perez said to the roaring chants of, “Si se puede.”
Following the alderman, Reverend Joseph Ellwanger took the podium to say a few words. He reminded everyone that the policy did not just affect adults, but the children who worry that when they return home their parents may not be there.
During Morin’s speech, he called out city officials for disregarding the city’s normal review practice, and for not enquiring the input of the community. The protest also included speeches from Maria Hamilton of the Coalition for Justice, and Tony Baez of the Milwaukee Public School Board. Christine Neumann-Ortiz, VDLF Executive Director, gave the concluding speech. She asked for a policy that treated the community with the respect and dignity it deserved, and not one that made people feel unwelcomed and scared. “Mayor Barret show us some leadership,” she said.
Neumann-Ortiz concluded the rally with a summarization in Spanish, and a reminder that the following meeting will occur on July 13 at 5:30 PM during the Police and Firefighter administration meeting.