By LaKeshia Myers
“Welcome to the struggle”—this was the simple yet most profound answer I was able to give to some of my Caucasian colleagues when they asked me to reflect on the national protests of the murder of George Floyd. There are no words that can describe my emotions; what happened to Mr. Floyd was a public lynching, plain and simple. George Floyd’s name will forever be etched into history alongside others like Derek Williams, Michael Brown and slain civil rights workers Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner—regular Americans who were killed by law enforcement. What makes the George Floyd protests different than earlier protests is simple, white Americans are outraged in massive numbers. They have decided to take to the streets alongside people of color and are echoing the change we have championed for centuries. They have activated their voices and platforms to want to know how and why an officer’s knee was pressed into the neck of a citizen with such force and for so long (8 minutes and 43 seconds) that he lost consciousness and died. For this again, I say, “welcome”—we’ve been wondering what it would take to mobilize your collective privilege.
Now that the world is watching and our message is being heard understand that this is not another tantrum; one conviction won’t solve everything. We wholly expect radical change to occur in cities across the nation, and what better place to begin than here in Wisconsin. Home is after all, where the heart is. Systemic issues regarding police misconduct are the responsibility of every citizen and politicians at every level of government. It is the public’s prerogative to seek information and begin to understand how their tax dollars are spent with regard to public safety. It is the responsibility of elected officials to hold departments accountable and understand the interconnectedness of law enforcement in other areas such as education and healthcare.
In the City of Milwaukee alone, $34 million in taxpayer dollars have been spent on settling police misconduct cases over the past sixty-two years. Of this amount, the majority of the police misconduct has occurred from 2005-present. In the current economic climate and with the state’s current shared revenue formula, I’m sure these funds could’ve paved several streets, invested in business development, increased minority home ownership, and been used to invest into the city’s fire department. But those dollars were used to sweep the deleterious behavior of officers under the rug and to perpetuate the systemic racism and illegal activity.
Let me make one thing abundantly clear, Milwaukee is not the only city with issues. Every municipality in this state has a similar story to tell. According to a 2014 article published in the Appleton Post-Crescent, it was found that Wisconsin’s African American arrest rate dwarfed that on Ferguson, Missouri, at a rate greater than three to one. Reporter Ariel Cheung stated, “Departments from Appleton to Wauwatosa — 48 in all in Wisconsin — exceed Ferguson’s controversial 3-to-1 disparity in arrests of blacks, according to a Gannett Wisconsin Media analysis of 61 police and sheriff’s departments” (Cheung, 2014). On average, Wisconsin police were 6.4 times more likely to arrest a black person versus a non-black person. We should all remember that blacks make up only six percent of the state’s total population; these statistics are harrowing and prove that every county and municipality in this state has a problem.
Dr. King said, “the time is always right to do what is right”—and in Wisconsin we know what is right. Holding law enforcement accountable is right; holding individual officers fiscally responsible for their misconduct and utilizing taxpayer dollars to fund settlements is right; having explicit standards for use of force is right; investing in drug treatment and youth diversion programming is right; truly embracing community policing is right; mandating annual diversity and inclusion training from qualified and certified professionals is right; ending administrative leave when misconduct is suspected is right; holding legislators at every level of government accountable is right; and having citizen review boards that have the ability to fire officers for misconduct is right. The people of Wisconsin are tired of legislative inaction and lip service, we all have a role to play—it’s time to do the work to change this state for the better.