Wisconsin Examiner

Tosa Protest Assails Federal Court Decision Exonerating Police

Many of marchers were on Wauwatosa police's 'target list' they say was illegal.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - May 9th, 2023 01:30 pm
Protesters gather in Wauwatosa to speak out against the protester list made in 2020 by Wauwatosa PD, and new policies on the horizon for Milwaukee. Photo by Isiah Holmes/Wisconsin Examiner.

Protesters gather in Wauwatosa to speak out against the protester list made in 2020 by Wauwatosa PD, and new policies on the horizon for Milwaukee. Photo by Isiah Holmes/Wisconsin Examiner.

“So whose side are you on, my people, whose side are you on?” Mariah Smith, one of many who marched with The People’s Revolution (TPR) in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd, sang to a group of fellow protesters. “We’re on the freedom side,” the marchers responded loudly. Standing in Wauwatosa’s Hart Park, the group held its first protest in a long time. The protest was organized in response to a federal jury’s verdict that a “protester list” created by the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) nearly three years ago had not violated protesters’ privacy. Many of the people who gathered in Wauwatosa Sunday had been placed on the list.

The protest was organized like the dozens that occurred in Wauwatosa in 2020. Protesters mingled and created posters and signs, many of which focused on the protester list itself. Some protesters who had been placed on the list put addresses on signs, noting that they were far outside Wauwatosa police jurisdiction. Others made signs that stated, “I’m on the target list,” in reference to the use of the term “target” by WPD civilian crime analyst Dominick Ratkowski in an email. Ratkowski shared the list to law enforcement personnel calling it the “TPR target list.”

During the five day federal trial last week, Ratkowski testified that being present at a protest was reason enough to put someone on the list. Some people were on the list because they were tagged in a social media post related to a protest.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit objected that the police department did not make lists of right-wing counter protesters, or other groups active in 2020.

On Friday, a federal jury decided that Ratkowski had not violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) when he gathered the information on the list and shared it with other law enforcement personnel.

“They let it be known, again, that whatever they want to do, whatever they want to say, that’s just what it is,” said Smith. “So that’s why we’re out here today. We’re out here to let them know, like, ‘Yo, you’re not silencing us. You’re not shutting us down.’”

Femi Akinmoladun, a protester who spoke after Smith, said that people continue to be motivated by the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020. “And in that movement, in that struggle, we won a lot, we lost a lot, but we kept on walking, we kept on moving,” said Akinmoladun.

Protesters also wanted to draw attention to shared revenue and tax policy developments. A current proposal in the Wisconsin Legislature would force Milwaukee to hire at least 25 school resource officers, and maintain current staffing levels for police and fire departments, among other requirements. The city’s Fire and Police Commission (FPC) is also in danger of being removed as an oversight body, a purpose for which it has served since 1911. The provision would remove civilian oversight of the Milwaukee Police Department. Local activists have worked for years to remove school resource officers from Milwaukee Public Schools, and get policies such as chokehold bans and transparent video-release policies passed through the FPC.

A car caravan accompanied the marchers Sunday as they left Hart Park. Cyclists were also among the protesters. Reactions among Wauwatosa residents were mixed. Some expressed disapproval. Others cheered the protesters, held up fists, or clapped and sang along with the marchers’ chants. Some residents offered the protesters water and food. A few teenagers followed the protesters along the sidewalk on bikes and scooters. Wauwatosa police officers kept a distance from the marchers.

Attorney Kimberley Motley said that the protest was encouraging. “It shows the resilience of my clients that are on the target list and those that are concerned about this surveillance document,” Motley told Wisconsin Examiner. “It was encouraging to see that they’re still going to be out protesting and fighting for their rights.” Motley said that it’s up to her clients whether they wish to appeal the jury’s decision. “There’s a myriad of ways that this could be approached,” she said. The trial focused on DPPA violation specifically. Various people on the list, however, may bring other claims before the court at some point in the future.

After the protest, Smith described the feeling of leading a march again after so long as “unexplainable … from the tingles in my toes to the jitters in my belly, the butterflies. The goosebumps from touching the streets, the nerves because we know what the police can do to us. It’s one of the most unexplainable feelings I have ever felt, but it feels amazing.” Smith wants Wauwatosa residents to know that the list was “unjust.” One man testified at trial that he protested once during a curfew and was arrested and placed on the list.

“It was something as simple as that,” Smith said, stressing that all Wauwatosa residents could end up on such a list if they express certain views. “I just want Tosa residents to know that we’re not terrorists,” said Smith. “I teach kids, I teach 4 year-olds. I’m not a criminal, and that’s my right to be able to protest. So I want Tosa citizens to understand that if our rights can be infringed upon, their rights can be infringed upon as well.”

Protesters march in Wauwatosa after federal jury exonerates police was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner.

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