By Dylan Deprey
What began as the usual back-and-forth question portion of the monthly Community Brainstorming at the St. Matthew’s C.M.E. Church basement, ended in silence as a quiet voice spoke over the sound system.
Carleen Jordan pleaded for answers, resources and justice from the four panelists.
Assistant Chief Raymond Banks, Milwaukee Police Department, Acting Milwaukee County Sheriff Richard Schmidt, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Tom Reed, Regional Director State Public Defender, listened to her story.
“My mother, she passed away in the Milwaukee County Jail in 2008,” Jordan said. “Her death was ruled a suicide.”
She said after speaking with one of her mother’s cellmates, the original story authorities told her was not the case.
“My mother begged and pleaded with the correctional officers to get help, and she was denied help,” Jordan said. “She died that night in her cell.”
From high profile police involved shootings to hosting the most incarcerated ZIP code in the nation, it was no question that the city of Milwaukee has had issues with community and police relations and mass incarceration.
As MPD and MCSO have seen new leadership in the past year, the April 28th Community Brainstorming focused on, “The Proposed Direction of Law Enforcement in Milwaukee and what the Community Needs to Know and Understand.”
The panelists spoke in order of how someone would encounter the law enforcement and justice system.
Following former MPD Police Chief Ed Flynn made his departure back in February, Interim Chief Police Chief Alfonso Morales has ushered in a new administration dedicated to change.
“I was never supposed to be a police chief in Milwaukee,” said Assistant Chief Banks, a Black MPD officer with 27 years of service and the former Community Outreach and Education Commander.
Banks spoke on behalf of MPD and said the administration was working to create transparency between police and the community, as well as open lines of communication for the people to have a voice in police procedures.
Banks said MPD was also working on other measures like improving training methods, hiring from within Milwaukee communities and having beat cops that can engage on the ground level.
“We want them to actually build relationships with the community,” Banks said.
Vaun Mayes, ITAV/Program the Parks founder, has put in countless hours working on police accountability in Milwaukee. He said that he was glad about what he heard during the meeting, but was more focused on the implementation.
“I don’t believe in talk and saying that they’re doing stuff,” Mayes said. “I’ll believe that when we see it working in the community.”
He noted how Banks was willing to sit down and listen to ideas and input from the community and advocates.
Interim Milwaukee County Sheriff Richard Schmidt has been in former Sheriff David Clarke’s seat since August, and said he has worked on made many changes.
From high-density highway patrols and drugged driving, to cross-agency collaborations and a major update to the jail, Schmidt said the biggest issue was building community relations.
“You can’t have public safety without public servants,” Schmidt said.
Rep. David Bowen said there was still a major disconnect between agencies and the communities and within the agencies themselves.
“We need to get to a point where they are providing a good service without having to justify bad behavior and unjust protocol,” Bowen said.
According to Milwaukee DA Chisholm, Milwaukee saw a total of 7,000 criminal cases in 2017.
Chisholm said that when people are first introduced through the system, whether it be a drug charge or prostitution, the deep-rooted issues must be addressed. He added that when people are exposed to violence they need to treat the trauma first because it could lead to consequences down the road.
“A call for help is just temporary intervention,” Chisholm said. “We need to keep people safe, but stop the problem from reoccurring over and over again.”
Reed, Regional Director State Public Defender, said that 92 percent of cases in Milwaukee utilize a public defender.
“There is a correlation between poverty and the criminal justice system,” Reed said. “They go hand-in-hand.”
He said there are 60 lawyers in the Public Defender’s office and an additional 25 private lawyers that pick up cases.
“We have a lot of people who wake up in the morning to stand up with someone accused of a crime, and are later sitting in their kitchen or living room in front of a legal pad,” Reed said.
Reed said that along with building police and community relations, the neighborhoods themselves needed to work to learn a little about each other.
Following the panel, Jordan was approached by Sheriff Schmidt to set up a meeting in regards to her mother’s death.