Sparked by the police shooting of a 29-year-old Black man in Kenosha on Sunday, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has called for the Legislature to meet in special session to take up a package of police-reform bills introduced more than two months ago.
Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes first introduced the nine bills — which would ban the use of choke holds by Wisconsin police officers, as well as limit other uses of force — in June, following the death of another Black man, George Floyd, while in Minneapolis police custody. GOP leaders in the Assembly and Senate have not convened on the proposed legislation.
“We cannot wait for Republican leadership to show up for work because clearly they intend to keep us waiting,” Evers said in a Monday video address. “That’s not going to cut it.”
On Sunday, Kenosha police shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake multiple times in front of his three children as he attempted to enter his SUV. Blake was hospitalized in serious condition.
“This is familiar violence to too many of us, especially those of us who are on the receiving end,” said Barnes, who is Black.
Evers signed an executive order on Monday calling for the special session to be held at noon on Aug. 31.
Vos wants task force
Less than an hour before Evers and Barnes spoke, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, announced a task force focusing on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards.
“We have an opportunity to bring people together to find solutions,” Vos said in a statement released after Evers called for the special session. “Instead, the governor is choosing to turn to politics again by dictating liberal policies that will only deepen the divisions in our state.”
Some Democrats were quick to criticize Vos’ comments, including Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, who pointed out that Republicans have had two months to act on the package of police-reform bills.
“The time for task forces on racial disparities has long passed,” Riemer said in a tweet. “It’s time for actual action.”
Evers in June did not call for the Legislature to convene in special session to take up the package, noting that previous attempts to force consideration of bills — such as gun-control legislation proposed by Democratic lawmakers last fall — have been thwarted by the GOP-led Assembly and Senate. The Legislature is not required to debate or vote on the bills.
The package of police-reform bills would:
- Establish statewide use-of-force standards for all law enforcement agencies identifying the use of deadly force as only allowable as a last resort and that such use of force should be limited to the least amount of force necessary.
- Require officers to complete eight hours of training on the use of force and de-escalation techniques annually.
- Create a $1 million grant program, administered by the Department of Justice, to fund community organizations that work to mediate conflicts.
- Require law enforcement agencies to develop policies banning the use of choke holds.
- Require law enforcement agencies to prepare policies for the use of force and make such policies publicly available.
- Create a state law allowing for civil suits against unnecessarily calling police for the intent of infringing on a person’s constitutional rights.
- Prohibit no-knock search warrants.
Require additional training and hiring standards for police departments, jails and juvenile detention centers.
Vos said in a statement he was “disturbed” by the video showing Kenosha police shooting and wounding Blake, apparently in the back, while responding to a call about a domestic dispute.
Vos also called on the state DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation to meet the department’s goal of completing an investigation in 30 days.
“The Kenosha community deserves to know the totality of the circumstances leading up to the shooting,” Vos said in the statement. “Before passing judgement, we have to know if the shocking 20-second video clip shared with the media tells the whole story.”
The officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard practice in a shooting by police, while the state Justice Department investigates.
Vos also said he was “deeply disturbed” by the protests that followed Sunday’s shooting and encouraged future protests to take place peacefully.
Protesters set cars on fire, smashed windows and clashed with officers in riot gear Sunday evening after the shooting. Protests overnight Sunday in Madison left a few businesses on State Street with exterior damage.
On Monday, Evers said the Wisconsin National Guard has deployed 125 members to Kenosha to protect infrastructure, first responders and firefighters.
“This is not a time for political posturing or to suggest defunding law enforcement. When a community is hurting, the most important thing that we can do is to listen,” Vos said. “We must find a path forward as a society that brings everyone together.”
Evers released a statement on Sunday saying he stood “with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity and accountability for Black lives in our country” — comments Kenosha Professional Police Association President Pete Deates called “wholly irresponsible.”
But Evers defended the comments during a Monday interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and said he understands the union’s need to “stand by their man.”
“The fact of the matter is what we saw was someone being shot, that someone was an African American man, and that happens too often in this country,” Evers said.
Wisconsin is considered one of the worst states in the nation for racial disparities between white and Black communities in areas such as unemployment, incarceration rates, income and education.
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