Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Community Groups Propose Changes

Twelve groups invited to speak and push less spending on police and more on lead abatement, other programs.

By - Oct 19th, 2020 04:31 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Common Council gave leaders of 12 community groups a chance to present their policy and budget requests to better Milwaukee on Monday morning during a meeting of the Steering & Rules Committee.

The three-hour meeting featured the groups, including one that was formed out of the marches that took place this summer, making 10-minute presentations on a wide range of issues, including police divestment and lead abatement, to the council and various city department leaders.

“I know that one meeting alone may not have all the answers, but it is truly an effort, a start,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. She sponsored a communication file to give the groups a platform. “We have seen over the past several months, not only in the city of Milwaukee, but across the country, demands for social justice.”

Participating groups included Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC), Black Youth Commission Against Violence, Community Task Force MKE, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, Leaders Igniting Transformation, Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Milwaukee NAACP, The People’s Revolution, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Southside Organizing Center and Voces de la Frontera.

“People want safety, but when they talk about that vision, they don’t necessarily want police on every corner,” said BLOC’s Rick Banks. He ticked off a list of desired changes, including violence prevention programs, trauma-informed care, lead water and paint abatement, inclusionary zoning practices and redesigning streets. “We can do all of this if we take money out of the Milwaukee Police Department.”

Other groups echoed that theme: fund public health programs at the expense of the approximately $300 million police budget.

Vaun Mayes of Community Task Force offered a variety of policy proposals, including a protester protection act that would make it a hate crime for people that threaten or attack a protester. He also called for a red flag system for police officers. “If officers get too many of a certain type of complaint, the officer needs to automatically come up for review,” he said. He called for more independence for the Fire & Police Commission.

Mayes said efforts to reallocate resources away from the police department towards public health and violence prevention need to go beyond just the city’s Office of Violence Prevention. He said community groups like his need funding.

Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic asked for his opinion on the police chief search.

“Honestly, the community needs to have major input in who that chief will be,” said Mayes. “Any leader we select, they need to be innovative.” He said he’s met only with finalist Hoyt Mahaley, a Milwaukee native currently with the FBI, and is endorsing Mahaley. That prompted assistant chief Jeffrey Norman, the one local finalist, to ask Mayes to reach out. City Attorney Tearman Spencer also gave Mayes, and anyone listening, his personal phone number.

The People’s Revolution, led by Khalil Coleman, is the organization founded by marchers that have now taken to the streets for 144 straight days. “A lot of the work we have done has been around systemic injustice, primarily in Milwaukee County,” said Coleman, noting the group’s push for justice both in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.

Coleman ceded his time to group member Zachary Pick, who detailed the organization’s demands. The People’s Revolution is calling for a $75 million reallocation away from MPD’s annual budget and a demilitarization of the department. “MPD does not create a sense of safety in many Milwaukee communities,” said Pick.

“We know that crime is increasing in Milwaukee, but we also know that’s only because we are in desperate times,” he said. The group is calling for investment in lead water abatement, improving the education system and a focus on de-escalation in all police department practices.

“You can send back the mayor’s 0.15% cut in MPD’s budget and make him start over,” said Pick. Mayor Tom Barrett‘s budget would cut 120 officers, but only $432,000 as a result of growing fringe benefit costs.

Coleman finished by calling for a “hands behind your back” operating procedure that would classify all additional force used by officers after an individual put their hands behind their back as excessive.

Representatives of Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), echoing the concerns of other groups, called for the city to stop accepting military surplus equipment. “We know that a lot of that has been used against protesters, including against protesters in Milwaukee this summer,” said Amanda Avalos. The group is also calling for a $75 million reallocation of MPD funds.

LIT’s Maya Neal also called for a racial equity audit for every city department. Coggs called on Nikki Purvis, who will lead the city’s newly formed Office of Equity and Inclusion, to work with LIT to make sure the group’s concerns are included in the city’s planned review. “We call it an equity assessment instead of an audit,” said Purvis describing the planned analysis. She promised to work with LIT to incorporate their concerns where possible.

LIT also called for the replacement of lead pipes.

Layton Boulevard West Neighbors executive director Brianna Sas-Pérez detailed the organization’s Turnkey Renovation Program that rehabilitates city-owned foreclosed homes and sells them to owner-occupants.

“It really is an honor to be among these other organizations that are doing so much to make a just city for us all,” she said.

Sas-Pérez said part of making the city more equitable includes making more city services available for non-English speakers. The city also needs to adapt its services to accommodate individuals with only an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) and not a Social Security number she said. The latter situation is common for immigrants.

Bria Smith of the Black Youth Commission Against Violence called for the city to make its resources, even agendas, more accessible for young residents. “We are not engaging young people. We are not making the language something they can understand,” she said. “Activism comes in all different forms. You don’t really need to wear a suit and tie to make a point.” She also called for divestiture from MPD.

The LGBT Community Center’s Alex Corona called for better training for officers to interface with concerns specific to the LGBTQ+ community, but endorsed the proposed unarmed first responder program. Corona also called for the city, whenever referring to “sex” as a protected class, to expand that to sexual orientation and gender.

Representatives of MICAH centered their remarks on lead abatement.

“I think it’s very significant that nearly every group [that mentioned] how we can improve life in Milwaukee has mentioned lead poisoning,” said retired pastor Joseph Ellwanger. “Eliminating lead poisoning in general is a much more humane and effective way to get at violent crime in the city.”

The group is calling for $3.55 million to be allocated to the Milwaukee Health Department to pay for abatement and care for every child that has a blood lead level of five to 20 micrograms per deciliter. “Think of these children as your own and I am sure you will find the funds.”

Livia Rowell-Ortiz of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Tammy L. Rivera of Southside Organizing Center gave overviews of their organizations and called for members of the communities they represent to be better engaged by the city.

Representatives of the NAACP’s Milwaukee chapter and Voces de la Frontera were called on to speak, but were not present at the virtual meeting.

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