My own state representative, Shelia Stubbs, is working in the real political world to make progress on police reform. I wish her Democratic colleagues would appreciate what she’s accomplishing.
In the year since the murder of George Floyd, not much has changed in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers called a special session to deal with police reform, but like all Evers’ special sessions, that one was dismissed in minutes (literally) by Republicans. (Evers really has to reconsider calling these things. I understand that he’s trying to make the Republicans look like they’re not dealing with important issues, but I’m not sure that the net result isn’t that it just makes Evers look weak.)
But it’s a measure of the saliency of the issue that Speaker Robin Vos felt that he needed to do something. His answer was a special committee, chaired by Republican Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Rep. Shelia Stubbs, a Black Madison Democrat and, as it happens, my own state representative.
The task force worked for a year and its proposals are now making their way through the process. The other day, the Assembly’s Criminal Justice Committee held the first public hearing on the proposals.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal:
“The seven-bill package includes measures that would require annual reports on the number of no-knock entries executed each year and resulting injuries and deaths. The package would also require the state Department of Justice to develop a training program for officers stationed in schools.
“Officer applicants statewide would have to undergo psychological examinations before they could be hired and officers would have to take four hours of crisis management training annually. Officers who shoot at someone or are involved in an incident resulting in a death or injury would have to get drug tested.
“Other bills in the package would create a grant program to purchase body cameras for patrol officers and expand eligibility for a $250,000 grant program to help people in rural areas deal with crises. Currently, only counties or regions are eligible for such grants, and the legislation would also make them available to municipalities.”
Those all sound like reasonable proposals, but Democrats on the committee blasted them for not going far enough. And community activists joined in the criticism. Again, according to the State Journal:
“Black Leaders Organizing Communities, a nonprofit that works to improve Black people’s lives, held a simultaneous rally in Milwaukee to lambaste the proposals as “crumbs.”“These bills are simply a blanket,” said Keisha Robinson, the organization’s deputy director. “They are just warm and squishy thoughts to keep police warm. When are there going to be actual bills that are going to be put in place to help the community?””
But credit Stubbs for living in the real political world. She understands that Republicans run the show. She can only get what they’re willing to give, so she did the smart, practical thing: she compromised. The proposals she is endorsing will improve the situation. It’s progress.
Too many of her colleagues just don’t seem to get it. They can call for “defunding” the police all they want. It isn’t going to happen and, more importantly, that kind of rhetoric undermines the whole movement for reform.
I can’t help but feel that the pro-reform movement squandered its moment. The blatant murder of Floyd, caught so graphically on camera, opened a lot of people’s minds. But then the calls for defunding, the almost nightly violence in Portland, the Seattle commune, and the violent protests in many cities rapidly eroded support. The looting of stores, the destruction of iconic statues and the attempted arsons in downtown Madison did their part here.
If her Democratic colleagues and activists don’t think Stubbs got enough in this package they need to do a couple of things. First, check in at the real political world. And second, consider their own role in damaging the environment for reform.