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Wisconsin Legislature Must Act In Special Session On Police Shootings; Provide Younger Voters With Hope

August 26, 2020

Throughout Wisconsin, since Sunday afternoon when Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha, there has been a high degree of emotion among state residents.  We have witnessed sadness, anger, simmering resentments, misunderstandings, along with an overall sense of utter frustration concerning another police shooting of a Black man.  We know how the coming days will play out.  More newspapers will editorialize about police reform, and talk radio will fill hours of on-air programming about this shooting.  But who we really need to hear from are the ones who make the laws under the statehouse dome. 

Governor Tony Evers has called lawmakers into a special session to take action on a package of bills aimed at reducing police brutality.   Not only are the pieces of legislation worthy of bi-partisan support, but I contend there is an added value to the session by underscoring a truth that too many young people fail to grasp. 

Some people have no faith in the political process and consider the releasing of rage in unacceptable ways as a means to some higher goal.  We have all watched news footage of fires, looting, and death and understand this will lead to no positive end.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of protestors over the past months have been peaceful.  It is for that younger generation that I argue showcasing the special session on police reforms as an avenue on how to create real progress within our political and legislative frameworks.  In so doing our state can take an important step forward by proving the merits of the governing process, and allow younger people to understand the role they play in a democracy.

The session’s aim is to ban police chokeholds and no-knock search warrants.  In addition, it would be more difficult for overly aggressive officers to move from one job to another.  These legislative bills have long been promoted by those advocating for needed police reforms.

A bold and dramatic legislative agenda on the front burner in the Madison Capitol would send a strong message to the peaceful protesters that their words and efforts were not in vain.  In addition, the message from the legislators in a true across-the-aisle fashion would be welcomed by a growing majority of state residents–both rural and urban.  After all, police reform is not only an urban issue.  The Marquette Law School Poll in June found strong support for more accountability for police misconduct.

Views of what to do about the police depend heavily on how the question is worded. “Calls to defund the police” are supported by 23 percent and opposed by 70 percent. In sharp contrast, when asked about “calls to restructure the role of the police and require greater accountability for police misconduct,” 81 percent support such changes, while 16 percent oppose this.

If Republicans and Democrats alike were willing to join in an effort in the special session it would send a clear message that the best way for change is not to start a fire or throw a brick.  It would demonstrate to a new generation of voters and engaged citizens that the legislative process is the best avenue to address wrongs and create changes.  We have an opportunity to prove that the legislative process can be what our civics lessons taught us in our youth.

This moment in time should not be wasted.

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