Democrat Mandela Barnes concedes to Republican Ron Johnson after losing by 1% in Wisconsin

Over a year ago Wisconsin’s Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes announced his campaign for U.S. senator at the Sherman Phoenix Marketplace, a hub of Black small businesses in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood. It was here Barnes chose to end his campaign Wednesday afternoon, conceding to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Barnes was joined by a crowd of supporters including his parents, Democratic leaders, community organizers and supporters.

“Obviously this is not the speech that I wanted to give,” Barnes told the crowd, “but I still cannot thank you all enough for being there with me every step of the way.” The race between Barnes and Johnson, who is going on to serve a third term as senator, ended by a tight margin. Johnson garnered 50.5% of the vote while Barnes attained 49.5% of the vote. During his concession speech, Barnes said that his campaign performed better than many gave it credit for. “A lot of people counted us out more than once,” said Barnes, “I think about the Marquette poll two, three weeks ago that said we were down six points. A lot of people gave up on us. But ya’ll didn’t give up.”

As Barnes spoke, tears streamed down the faces of audience members including passionate young voters, voting outreach workers and seasoned activists who had hardened themselves for the potential outcome of the election. Ultimately, Barnes was defeated by a margin of just over 27,000 votes. Nevertheless, Barnes feels the campaign demonstrated how a diverse coalition can put up a fight against opponents with superior financial backing. “You showed the progress that we make when we build a coalition. When we reach across the aisle, when we reach across communities, think about the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us. When we stand and we say that we deserve better and that together we’ll fight for it, it’ll get better.”

One point not lost on anyone in the crowd was the amount of spending that flooded the field between Barnes and Johnson. Spending by the parties reached $144 million for advertising in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate general election. About $77 million of that was spent by Republicans, outpacing Democrats who spent $67 million.

Outside groups spent $52.8 million attacking Barnes and $37.7 million attacking Johnson, according to the campaign finance watchdog group Open Secrets.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore emphasized that despite the massive spending, Barnes lost by just over 27,000 votes, “after multi-millions of dollars of spending of money from big pharma, and the fossil fuel industry, and god knows where, because it’s all dark money,” said Moore. She stressed that the legacy of the Barnes campaign is one of confronting that sort of spending.

The ads attacking Barnes accused him of being soft on crime, described him as “a different kind of Democrat” and “too dangerous for Wisconsin.” Some showed scenes of shoot-outs and other graphic crimes alongside Barnes’ face. Barnes, who is African American, was also depicted as having a darker skin tone than he does in life. Community groups denounced the ads for having what they felt were racist overtones.

Moore recalled that she was initially reluctant to support Barnes when he first approached her. “I thought about all the reasons that I just shouldn’t, couldn’t ought to be doing it,” said Moore. “There’s no way that I can just lay my values down for political expediency,” said Moore. “And I’m so glad, knowing what I know right this moment, that I did what I did.”

Disappointment was palpable in the air hanging over the crowd. “It’s heartbreaking,” Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy told Wisconsin Examiner. Clancy was an early endorser of Barnes. “It’s heartbreaking because it’s so close. It’s one of those elections where I know everyone here is looking at it, saying, ‘What if I knocked on one more door, or what if I made one more phone call?’ It’s a rough one.” Clancy added, “He was clearly a threat to the status quo.”

Former State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, who will now fill one of Milwaukee’s vacant aldermanic districts, was both disappointed and optimistic about the future for Democrats. “I think we outperformed going against the headwinds,” Brostoff told Wisconsin Examiner. “Usually in Wisconsin, the party in charge gets pretty severe backlash statewide. And we not only held against that, but we kept the governor’s seat despite a ludicrous amount of outside money spent. And Mandela coming so close against such a long-term incumbent that had so much money coming in — all things considered, I’m pretty amazed.”

Former State Rep. David Bowen said he was also proud of Barnes’ performance. “Clearly the winds were not at his back,” said Bowen, adding that inflation and the economy weighed heavily on the minds of voters. “But for him to come so close is a testament to how hard he worked. But it also demonstrates how damaging the imbalance in attack-ad spending in the race was. … So they were able to define Mandela and what should have been a clean record. Those attack ads made Mandela look like a criminal.” Bowen noted that attack ads against Evers did not take on the same tone as those against Barnes.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action was disappointed like many others at Barnes’ defeat, and felt the attack ads against him made a dent. During voter outreach, she said, her organization educated people about the voting process while also addressing disinformation in the ads against Barnes. For Neumann-Ortiz, now is a time to reflect and “reimagine” how to conduct voter education and mobilize communities. In Milwaukee, there were 40,000 fewer votes cast this week in Milwaukee than in the general election in 2018.

But Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Madison) noted the high level of voter turnout and voter enthusiasm in Dane County. “He was able to galvanize people,” Johnson told Wisconsin Examiner. “We saw first-time voters coming out and they weren’t being dragged there by their parents. They were coming out on their own to cast their vote.” Johnson added, “If we engage more in helping to get the word out, if everybody does their part …we can continue to see this movement mobilize … we can continue to see everyday, ordinary people get out and cast a ballot.”

“We didn’t get over the finish line this time,” Barnes concluded in his concession speech. “But I know this movement that has meant so much to all of us will keep going. I still believe that better is possible, and I am in this for Wisconsin. Now is not the time for us to tune out. Now is the time for us to double down. To show up like we’ve never shown up before, and make sure that Ron Johnson and every political leader knows they answer to every person in Wisconsin – not just the people who voted for them. Together, we’re going to organize for better, we’re going to fight for better, and one day soon, we’re going to achieve better.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Milwaukee DA to charge 62-year-old caught on video choking Black man

The Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office has announced that it will charge 62-year-old Robert Walczykowski, who appeared in an Oct. 10 video holding a 24-year-old Black man by the throat and accusing the man of stealing a bicycle. Walczykowski, who is white, has been charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct

Local resident Deangelo Wright made a video of the incident, which went viral on social media. The video shows Walczykowski holding the young man tightly by the neck and refusing to release him while calling the police. A criminal complaint filed against Walczykowski states that he told officers who arrived on the scene that he’d witnessed “some children go into his neighbor’s yard and attempt to remove a bicycle.” Walczykowski called his neighbor, who confirmed with the officer that he wanted the 62-year-old to call police.

Wright was traveling past when he witnessed Walczkowski yelling at “several children” and choking a young man in the incident he caught on video. Wright also called the police. The complaint states that two days later on Oct. 12, Milwaukee police officers arrived at a South Side residence to investigate an abandoned property complaint. Officers spoke with a woman who stated she wanted to turn over two bikes to the officers that did not belong to anyone in her family.

The woman stated that her son, who had been choked by Walczykowski, “possibly” had something to do with the bikes. The complaint states that the bikes that were recovered had not been reported stolen. The woman added that her son had disabilities and is “somewhat non-verbal,” the complaint states that “it was challenging to obtain details of the incident that occurred on Oct. 10, 2022.” The 24-year-old “made noises and pointed to his neck and said the word ‘bikes,’” the complaint read. Later, officers were informed by family members of the man that he has “the mental capacity of a 5-year-old.”

Following the incident, protests were held outside of Walczykowski’s home, including by community activist Vaun Mayes and a South Side-based activist group called the Brown Berets. Protesters criticized the amount of time it took to charge Walczykowski, and that the charges weren’t more serious. Walczykowski was charged on Oct. 27, more than two weeks after the choking incident.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Juan Miguel Martinez was pleased to hear about the charges. “Unfortunately, it does not come as a surprise that these kinds of situations still occur in our city,” Martinez said in a statement. “There are three aspects of this video I would like to unequivocally condemn. First, the use of a chokehold in any form is thoroughly unacceptable. Second, acting aggressively toward a member of the Black community, and accusing them of a crime that they were allegedly near is an example of vigilantism and racism that is truly disgusting. Finally, assaulting a member of our community who has a disability is something that should never be tolerated.” The supervisor thanked District Attorney John Chisholm’s office for making “the correct decision in charging the man responsible for unlawfully detaining another citizen. I hope this encouraging trend continues in the future.”

The case comes amid a slew of other racially charged incidents in recent weeks. Just days ago, a mural of George Floyd in Milwaukee was vandalized. Days before that, the president of Kenosha’s NAACP found a flyer on his doorstep with an image of Senate candidate Mandela Barnes under the carass of a dead bird. White Lives Matter flyers were distributed in the Milwaukee County suburb of Greendale, and a man in West Allis was charged federally for targeting Black neighbors with threatening racist notes.

Waukesha County has seen an uptick in white supremacist activity, which has been linked to incidents in the city of Jefferson and elsewhere. Racist notes denouncing “Blacks and their lack of morals” were distributed in Wauwatosa during 2020 as well. A day before Walczykowski was filmed holding a mentally disabled Black man by the throat and accusing him of theft, police in Burlington announced they’ll be investigating racist threats made against a local activist. The note was perceived as a death threat and used anti-Black racial slurs.



Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

George Floyd mural in Milwaukee vandalized

A mural of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests in 2020, was vandalized sometime before Tuesday in Milwaukee. The mural was created by a collective of artists during the summer of protest which followed Floyd’s death in late May 2020.

The vandalism came after news broke regarding the fate of two of the officers who were involved in Floyd’s death. On Monday, former Minneapolis officer Jay Alexander Kueng accepted a deal to plead guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s killing. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a murder charge against the former officer. Kueng must serve at least two-thirds of a 42-month prison term, and will not pay a fine.

Another former officer who was charged in connection to Floyd’s killing, Tu Thao, waved his right to a jury. Instead, Thao will undergo a stipulated bench trial where a judge will weigh existing evidence against him. Both officers are already serving federal prison terms after being convicted of depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights. Kueng helped restrain Floyd as former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. Thao kept concerned citizens at bay, as they begged the officers to get Floyd medical attention and filmed the killing.

Domonique Whitehurst, one of the artists who created the mural, was appalled by the vandalism. A painted image of Floyd’s face had been splashed with gray paint. It wasn’t the first time the mural has been damaged. Whitehurst told Wisconsin Examiner that at one point, a section of the mural that said “Free Palestine” was specifically damaged.

Whitehurst said he found out through social media. The mural can be easily restored, he said, and work could be finished Wednesday. “Hopefully they can find the person that did this,” said Whitehurst. “Honestly it shouldn’t be that hard, but it’s unfortunate.” Although Whithurst wasn’t aware of the developments with Kueng and Thao, he feels there’s a lot of racial tensions in the state including various incidents of racism that have escalated since the administration of former President Donald Trump. “It could be any of those things that could be why this happened,” Whitehurst said. “It could be all related. It feels like it’s related.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Protesters outside Milwaukee GOP office denounce ‘racist’ ads

A group of voters in Milwaukee joined community organizations and elected officials outside the Wisconsin Republican Party’s field office on Martin Luther King Drive. The office, located on Milwaukee’s predominately African American North Side, opened in the Bronzeville neighborhood in 2020.

On Wednesday, it became the site of a brief protest organized by community members, who voiced discontent over political advertisements they feel have racist overtones. Many of the ads have targeted U.S. Senate candidate Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is running against incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in the November election.

Jake Spence, state director of the Wisconsin Working Families Party, told Wisconsin Examiner it is important to “recognize these ads for what they are.”

“These are beyond the dog whistle anymore, this is just outright racism. And when you see it, you have to call it out,” said Spence. Over the last month or so, ads specifically targeting Barnes have ramped up online and on television.

Many of them follow a similar strategy, attacking the Democrat as soft on crime, whether it’s recycling images of Barnes holding an Abolish ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) T-shirt, or stating Barnes and others want to eliminate cash bail. The Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy has also been a prominent staple in the ads. In one case, images of Barnes are featured alongside video of people in the parade ducking out of the way of the SUV which killed six, and injured over 60. The narrator’s voice states: “Mandela Barnes, he wants to protect criminals, not us. He’s too dangerous for Wisconsin.”

Several ads following this same theme also show apparent surveillance camera video of shootings and gun violence, echoing the tag line that Barnes is “too dangerous” to be elected. In one case the narrator states “Mandela Barnes stands with them, not us.” Other examples feature Barnes alongside progressive Democratic Reps. Alexandra Ocosio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, painting the group of elected officials of color as the enemy. Many of these ads can be found on the YouTube channel of the Senate Leadership Fund, an independent political action committee focused on expanding Republican seats in the U.S. Senate.

A protest held outside of the Milwaukee GOP field office. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) was at the gathering Wednesday outside the GOP field office. “I can’t stay silent,” he told Wisconsin Examiner. “I’ve seen the ads, my family has seen the ads, and I felt compelled to come out and call them out for what they are. I think it’s the worst kind of politics. I wish that Ron Johnson would run on his record, what he’s done or not done in 12 years in office and have a fair fight.” Goyke stressed that politics in general have become increasingly divisive. “It only makes things worse when race and fear are the predominant themes of the election, as we’ve seen.”

Goyke recalled one ad that upset his wife recently. “It’s got various comments and items, and at the end it’s got a picture of Mandela and three congresswoman from different parts of the country — all women of color — and the narrator says that Mandela is a ‘different kind of Democrat.’” For Goyke the message was clear. “They could have Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but they have three women of color because they’re women of color. And the word ‘different’ is being used to talk about race, and not about ideology.”

Calena Roberts, a member of SEIU Wisconsin, was also disgusted by the strategy expressed in the ads against Barnes. “I have people in my family, people who are in my community, who are saying, ‘What are the issues that they’re talking about? Why are they just slamming this man?” Roberts added, “This is not fair, this is not right, and we’re going to let it be known.” She feels that “most of it is lies, and most of it is trying to create fear amongst ourselves. We can’t have that.”

Still, Roberts had a sympathetic view of those who staff the GOP field office in Milwaukee. “People need work,” she said. “Some people aren’t thinking of the bigger picture.” Nevertheless, Roberts feels that the office was opened not because the Republican party cares about Milwaukee’s North Side, “but because they want to get everything they can.”

Wisconsin Examiner reached out to the communications liaison for the GOP field office and Ron Johnson’s office, but received no response.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

How the Waukesha Christmas parade deaths have been weaponized for political gain

In the 10 months since six people were killed and more than 60 injured when an SUV slammed into the Waukesha Christmas Parade, white supremacist and neo-fascist groups have cultivated a belief that the incident was a racially motivated attack on white people. That belief, which was indulged by one high-ranking Republican Party official in the area, is considered a “false narrative” by law enforcement in the community, emails obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner show.

Experts say that when people who hold real political power nod at the beliefs of extremists they legitimize them, and that mainstream political support further entrenches these groups. Waukesha, and other communities in southeastern Wisconsin, have seen a rise in white supremacist activity over the last year.

In the days after police arrested 39-year-old Darrell Brooks, a Black man from Milwaukee, for the crime, much of the focus was on the judicial system. About two weeks before the parade, Brooks had been released from the Milwaukee County Jail on a $1,000 bail for two domestic violence charges.

District Attorney John Chisholm later admitted the bail was “inappropriately low.” Chisholm explained to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors that a combination of court delays during the pandemic and worsening staffing shortages and case backlogs in Milwaukee contributed to Brooks’ release.

State Republicans have responded with calls for stricter bail laws, the firing of Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm, and for tougher on crime policies.

But others, including Waukesha County Republican Party chairman Terry Dittrich, saw the tragedy through the lens of race.

“This guy hates white people, and he wanted to kill them,” Dittrich said of Brooks, who is Black, in an interview he gave for a documentary by a white supremacist group, “Terror in Waukesha.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the film a propaganda piece.

Mainstream support for neo-facism

Dittrich also qualified his own remarks in the film: “We’re still in a point of grieving in this country. To have a Republican leader come out and start talking about whether this guy was a racist … I mean, I am of the firm belief that we will have time to talk about that. We are going to. We are not going to shy away from it. But I want to let the criminal justice system and law enforcement do their job. I support what you’re doing, but I think it would be inflammatory for me to come out.”

The film was promoted by the National Justice Party (NJP), a group that formed in August 2020. Classified by the Anti-Defamation League as a neo-Nazi organization, the group fixated on Waukesha after the parade tragedy. Along with the neo-facist group Patriot Front, the group held rallies in Waukesha. The film featuring Dittrich frames what some media outlets have called an attack or massacre as an act of anti-white racial terror.

Brooks remains incarcerated on $5 million bail. Police have said there was no clear motive for the crime, although Brooks may have been fleeing the scene of another domestic violence episode at the time of the parade.

The months that followed the Christmas parade tragedy saw a surge of white supremacist activity in the area, including rallies held by NJP and Patriot Front and masked men who hung a banner reading “resist Black terror” on the Waukesha Transit Center.

Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, says Dittrich’s appearance in the documentary film and agreement with the groups’ beliefs is a big victory for them. In the documentary, one of the filmmakers can be seen pumping his fist when the crew gets Dittrich on the phone.

“It ends up legitimizing these positions at the simplest level,” she says. “For white nationalist organizations this is a huge win. For someone who has mainstream support and holds mainstream power — this really legitimizes them, to get people with political power adopting these positions.”

I support what you’re doing, but I think it would be inflammatory for me to come out.

– Terry Dittrich - Waukesha County GOP Chair

In an email to the Wisconsin Examiner, Dittrich says his comments in the documentary interview were misconstrued.

“What a crock. No, he fully misquoted me and then spun all of this,” he says. “[I] don’t know this person. End of story.”

Dittrich did not respond to phone calls seeking more information about how he was misquoted in the documentary.

A valuable, but false narrative

As recently as July of this year, officers of the Waukesha Police Department (WPD) were still monitoring white supremacist activity, including stickers with racist symbols that appeared in public places, emails show.

“Last weekend we had someone come thru [sic.] our downtown placing stickers on all our street lighting posts causing a public nuisance,” Jefferson Chief of Police Alan Richter said in an email to Waukesha PD. “We have had similar stickers put on signs in our area,” read a July 7 response from Waukesha PD Lt. Chad Pergande. There’s about 40 miles between the cities of Waukesha and Jefferson.

“Overall, we have seen an increase in White Nationalist/ Hate Group activity and have communicated with the Fusion Center on it. If you develop suspects, [REDACTED].” Pergande said in the email, part of a trove the Examiner received through a public records request. The email named several individuals associated with the NJP, including one who “is either a former or active soldier,” Pergande emailed. “The individuals/associates involved in NJP also helped to organize the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virgina, in 2017.”

Unite the Right was organized after residents of Charlottesville decided to remove a confederate statue from city grounds. White supremacist groups marched through the streets with torches chanting “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” “white lives matter” and “blood and soil.” After beating and clashing with counter protesters for days, one of the white supremacists drove his car into a crowd. Heather Heyer, 32 years old, was killed in the collision and 19 others were injured.

“They have connections to ‘The Daily Stormer’ and the neo-Nazi group the Traditionalist Worker Party,” Pergande wrote. “Prior NJP rallies have drawn up to 100 people, however it is believed that the group could mobilize local extremist groups — Patriot Front/The Base/New World Order (Milwaukee).”

In the email chain, Pergande shared a string of messages within the Waukesha PD with another law enforcement official. “The recent activity in Waukesha by the National Justice Party and Patriot Front lead us to believe the false narrative of the Waukesha Parade incident being racially motivated is drawing the attention of groups in an attempt to recruit and promote their agenda in Waukesha.”

White supremacist activity spreads in Wisconsin

Documents obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner show police were tracking the Waukesha-based recruitment efforts of several white supremacist groups.

On Dec. 8 2021, a recruitment video for The Base was posted on the group’s Telegram channel. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), The Base consists of “small, terroristic cells,” often motivated to mobilize more covertly than groups like the NJP. “It is not a group that seeks to build popular appeal,” the SPLC page on the group reads. “Instead, groups like The Base seek to inspire a small number of actors to commit themselves wholly to their revolutionary mindset and act on it — either by forming small, clandestine terror cells or inspiring individuals to carry out ‘lone actor’ attacks.”

The Base was founded in July 2018, about a year after Unite the Right in Charlottesville. “The group appears to have done a rebrand in 2021 from Folks Resistance,” one of Pergande’s emails read.

In the group’s 41-second recruitment video, masked members can be seen putting stickers on street signs, presumably in Waukesha. The stickers say, “Save your race, join The Base,” and feature three lightning bolt-like hashes. A scene from the video shows them being placed on the sign outside the Waukesha Democratic Party’s office. Words superimposed on that scene say, “White revolution is the only solution.”

“It’s absolutely terrifying to see that in your own backyard, and especially with your own organization featured in it is terrifying to say the least,” Matthew Lowe, chairman of the Waukesha Democratic Party, told the Wisconsin Examiner after privately viewing the video. “When we got the stickers we just kind of assumed it was some dumb kids, nothing big. And then to see it part of a larger, well-known white supremacist organization, it’s absolutely terrifying.”

Around the time the stickers were distributed, the local Democratic party office also began receiving threats. One day, every car in the office lot had white supremacist fliers placed on them. The lot is also used by many city employees. “All of that kind of coincided with multiple threats of violence we got,” said Lowe. “We got bomb threats. We got threats of coming and shooting up the office.” Even during the county fair this year, someone threatened to shoot up the Democratic party’s booth. “They actually got arrested and charged and banned from the fair,” said Lowe. The office has installed a new security system because of the activity, and is in regular contact with police. “It’s definitely unsettling.”

Miller says the the tragedy has a lot of value for white supremacist groups. By leveraging the tragedy, they’re able to exploit it for recruitment and spread their beliefs.

“What we saw was that some people with a lot of influence in the white power movement immediately picked up on the tragedy to exploit it for their own ends,” Miller says. “The most predominant was the National Justice Party, which grew out of a podcast network. One of their main positions is that there is a wave of anti-white crime happening around the country; there’s anti-white policies and generally an anti-white culture. What they often do is to seize onto tragedies and claim there’s a racial component, that this is part of a much broader epidemic of Black-on-white crime. That’s a false narrative we’ve seen crop up over and over again through the course of U.S. history.”

The web of white nationalist groups interested in Waukesha goes beyond the NJP, Patriot Front and the Base. Emails show that Waukesha police were aware of calls “by American Guard to come here,” a group with connections in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The Proud Boys also bragged about coming to Waukesha on Dec. 18 “to demand that the parade ‘accident’ be described as a racially motivated domestic terror attack, and that Darrell Brooks be charged with hate crimes,” according to social media material obtained and shared by law enforcement.

The Proud Boys announced on Twitter plans to march the parade route and through what had been the crime scene area. Law enforcement monitored the discussion, though it’s unclear if any mobilization occurred. After the tragedy, Proud Boys did organize in other parts of the country, including Long Island. Threats by the Oath Keepers to bring 40,000 armed members to Waukesha and patrol the streets were also made, but never materialized

“Since the parade incident, the department has seen an increase in the level of race related communications,” Pergande emailed law enforcement colleagues on Nov. 29. “Notably, there has been groups that are linked with White Supremacist Extremist Organizations (WSEO) that are taking advantage of this event to promote racial discord. There has been one protest thus far and at least two other groups have threatened protests.” In December members of the National Freedom Party, a white nationalist political party, requested to speak with Waukesha’s police chief, but he declined.

As local police investigated the incidents, the law enforcement Fusion Center in Milwaukee took notice. The intelligence hub has a particular component, the Southeastern Threat Analysis Center (STAC), which hosts a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Intelligence was both provided to, and shared from the STAC, helping identify key players behind Waukesha’s white nationalist activity, even as they returned to their home states, or dispersed throughout the Badger State.

Other southeastern Wisconsin communities experienced similar activity. A week before Waukesha’s racist banner drop, Black families in the city of West Allis reported that someone was damaging property and leaving behind threatening racist notes warning them to leave the neighborhood. In April, William McDonald, 54, was arrested and charged federally with using force and threatening to use force to injure, intimidate and interfere with the housing rights of multiple people because of their race.

West Allis Deputy Chief Robert “Bob” Fletcher told Wisconsin Examiner, “I am unaware of any evidence linking the individual in West Allis to the incidents in Waukesha.” The Kenosha Police Department also identified and cited 56-year-old Jeffrey Kidden, who was leaving anti-Semitic fliers in yards around the city. Kidden was cited and fined $4,301 by police for violating Kenosha’s littering ordinance. In a separate incident, racist letters distributed in Wauwatosa during 2020 by another group were not investigated by police.

Last week, a leak of the Oath Keepers membership database showed that half a dozen elected officials in Wisconsin, including a Madison Common Council member and the Village President of North Hudson, had previously been members of the right-wing organization.

Lowe, the local Democratic party chair, said that both the Waukesha PD and the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department have been responsive and helpful after the threatening propaganda appeared at the office. “They’ve been great,” said Lowe. “They follow up on anything we reach out on. The sheriff’s department handled the incident at the fair. And they were really great with follow-up and kind of giving some reassurances to our volunteers who received the threats.”

But Lowe also says he is disappointed at how the parade tragedy has been politically leveraged. Volunteers from both the Democratic and Republican parties of Waukesha marched in the parade during the tragedy. “We immediately reached out to them to check on them, make sure their people were OK,” said Lowe. Since then Lowe has met some of the families who were affected by the tragedy. “Some of our volunteers were with people as they passed on,” said Lowe.

Weaponizing the tragedy for politics

The parade tragedy occured a day after then-18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two Black Lives Matter protesters and injured a third using an AR-15 style rifle during the Kenosha unrest of 2020, was acquitted. Shock and confusion fueled speculation about the two events happening so close together.

STAC members focused on a Facebook video made by Vaun Mayes, a community organizer in Milwaukee, who traveled to the parade scene. His comments on a livestream that the event “could be the start of the revolution” went viral online.

STAC personnel speculated that some of the white supremacist mobilization after the parade tragedy was “also motivated by the Vaun Mayes video.”

As the public processed the trauma of both the Rittenhouse trial and the tragedy in Waukesha, “It was Waukesha against the world at that point,” Lowe recalled.

But later the pain of the community seemed to Lowe to be transformed into political fodder.

“For them to have kind of moved past it and made it this jaded political thing that it’s really not, is really disappointing,” says Lowe. “But it’s also really scary. But as you can see, these white supremacists who are coming out of the woodwork are doing so because they are kind of geared up by what’s being said.”

Lowe wonders why the Waukesha Republican party hasn’t taken the stance they appeared to take the night of the tragedy, where politics were put aside for community. Instead, the party appears to be “fanning the flames for political will,” said Lowe. One recent ad by the Senate Leadership Fund shows footage of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes beside video of police tape and emergency lights at the Waukesha Christmas Parade, and accuses Barnes of being soft on crime. “The fact that Republicans continue to use this as a political weapon is so disingenuous and disgusting,” says Lowe.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Milwaukee woman evicted from home left dilapidated by wealthy landlord

“Right now, I’m still frustrated, I’m scared ‘cause I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Patricia Williams tells Wisconsin Examiner as she sits on the front porch of the place she called home for nearly a decade. “I don’t know where I’m going to go.” Like many others across Milwaukee County, the 62-year-old mother to four and grandmother to 19 is getting evicted by her landlord.

Wisconsin no longer has any eviction bans in place. The federal eviction moratorium ended last August, and landlords can now file for eviction for nonpayment of rent. In Milwaukee, evictions have surged to pre-pandemic levels. According to Eviction Lab, 191 evictions have been filed in the last week. Over 21,000 have been filed since March, 2020. On Wednesday, waiting for the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to arrive and conduct the eviction, Williams braced for what will be an uncertain future.

She had lived in the house since 2013. It belonged to her ex-husband’s mother before it was acquired by the city. Her landlord, Athlene Alexis, who owns EKCJ LLC, bought the home from the city in late 2015. “When the city took the house we had to start paying $500 a month,” says Williams. Suddenly, living in the home on N. 21st Street on Milwaukee’s predominately African American North Side, was a financial strain.

Damage to the front steps of Patricia Williams’ home. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

In the years prior, “it was free because it belonged to my ex-husband’s family,” says Williams. “And then soon as Alexis bought it in December 2015, she jacked the rent up to $850.” When the rent was raised again to $950 during the pandemic, Williams began to push back. “You ain’t been in this house since you bought it to do no work,” Williams told the landlord.

To earn money, Williams works as a construction contractor and does work on homes. Most of Williams’ belongings had been moved out by Tuesday, and the disrepair the home had fallen into was evident. The front steps and porch, made of old, sun-bleached wood, was missing planks in places. Williams points out to Wisconsin Examiner that each of the home’s air vents is severely damaged.

Patricia Williams shows reporters the disrepair to the home. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Jagged cracks stream down the walls of the nearly 100-year-old home, and in many places the paint is stained and peeling. Williams says she wasn’t allowed to paint the rooms. The oven is damaged, and mouse droppings litter the pantry shelves, and the inside of the refrigerator. The bathtub needs to be replaced, and exposed wires run all over the house, especially in the basement, where Williams’ family long tracked the source of the mouse problem. No effort has apparently been made by the landlord to fix the pest problems.

Upstairs, where Williams spent most of her time, is similarly grim. A large metal pipe sticks out, hanging down about two feet from the ceiling. Williams says it was hammered through during roof repairs and was never fixed. Floor tiles are loose or absent and the floor is clearly warped and dips in places. The condition of the house made Williams worry for her grandchildren, who regularly visit, she says.

Every air vent in the home appeared to be damaged in some way. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Her requests for the landlord to provide the materials so she could make repairs herself were rejected. Instead, Williams feels that her inquiries to the city about the house’s condition made Alexis retaliate. At one time, Williams says Alexis arrived at her home unannounced, stating that she was owed money. The lack of repairs and the dispute over Williams’ rent payments were deeply concerning to the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU). The union, of which Williams is a member, sent members to Williams’ home to support her during the eviction, and to await the arrival of the sheriffs.

In a Wednesday morning press release, MATU noted that Williams had applied for a rent abatement program under the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) and Milwaukee Community Advocates. On June 1 an inspection was conducted by the DNS. The inspection found that “the landlord needed to conduct repairs by 7/9/2022,” MATU noted in its press release. “And if these repairs were not completed upon subsequent inspection, that Ms. Williams’ rent would be partially abated until the property was in full compliance with the Order to Correct issued by the DNS.”

Mouse droppings littered the pantry, and were inside of the refrigerator as well. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

However, on July 26, Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge David Swanson ruled in favor of a writ of restitution against Williams. MATU fears that by doing so, “Judge Swanson essentially invalidated this entire program, which is designed to given tenants who live in dilapidated rental properties recourse against landlords who refuse to maintain the property as is their responsibility under Wisconsin state statute 704.07(2) and ATCP 123.09(5) (a).” The union called Swanson’s ruling, “a slap in the face to Ms. Williams, and renters across the City of Milwaukee, as it serves to invalidate one of the few programs that have been employed for years by the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Community Advocates to give tenants a chance to try to improve their living conditions.”

Shawanna Lidenberg of Community Advocates expressed shock at the ruling in MATU’s press release. “We’ve used this rent abatement program for hundreds of tenants over the years and have never had a judge ignore it and rule to evict anyway,” said Lindenberg.

Exposed wires and evidence of electrical problems were visible throughout the home. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Robert Penner, a MATU member, said that the union was aware of Alexis prior to meeting Williams. From 2012-14, years when Williams lived in the home prior to Alexis taking ownership, the home was issued four code violations. Under the ownership of EKCJ LLC, the home has accumulated 17 code violations.

The most recent one, filed on June 21, is logged as “interior of building in disrepair.” It specifically detailed many of the things apparent during the Examiner’s visit including “electrical issues, faucet drop, toilet leaks.” It also referenced, “pipe hanging out from the upstairs ceiling. Tile is coming up off the floor.”

A violation issued on April 26 describes “water damage/mold in the basement under the kitchen and bathroom sink.” Yet another filed on June 23 involved a lead abatement permit. Currently, a proposal is pending before the Common Council which would increase penalties for landlords who don’t correct lead hazards on their properties.

Alexis holds a place on the MATU’s wall of shame, which it reserves for “Milwaukee’s top evicting landlords and their supporters.” Under EKCJ LLC, Alexis owns more than 20 homes throughout Milwaukee’s North Side. “The MATU says that since 2016, Alexis has filed 40 evictions, which are sometimes levied against MATU members who complain to the city about the condition of their homes,” her entry on the wall of shame reads. The wall of shame notes that she also owns SYRCLE Properties LLC and PMA LLC.

The basement ceiling sagged and was damaged throughout the basement. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Penner calls Alexis a landlord who “doesn’t maintain her properties, operates illegal rooming houses, threatens her tenants with illegal actions like retaliatory evictions.” (A “rooming house” is a home which is rented out by the room, which requires particular permissions from the city.)

According to city records as recent as July 2021, Alexis was described as the owner of several North Side properties with “outstanding building code violation judgments.” Penner stresses that Alexis, a doctor who attaches a Brookfield address to her eviction cases, is “a very wealthy person that takes advantage of vulnerable tenants on the North Side of Milwaukee.” Calling Alexis “a detriment to the community” Penner said, “she makes people’s housing insecure rather than secure, and she doesn’t maintain her properties. So she’s a problem.” Wisconsin Examiner reached out to Alexis, and the Department of Neighborhood Services, and did not receive a response.

Williams feels what she’s experienced is an inexcusable lack of regard from the landlord. “She should be fixing the electricity,” Williams tells Wisconsin Examiner. “She should be fixing the plumbing. She should be fixing her basement. When it rains, water be all over that basement. I done thrown numerous clothes and all the memory away because it gets all wet, moldy, and mildew.”

Breaking into tears, Williams describes the effect the eviction has had on her mental and physical health. “I’m just so deeply hurt because I feel like I’m failing myself, I’m failing my family,” says Williams, who lost one of her daughters to cancer. “If I get put out, what am I going to look like? Like, ‘Wow, what happened to Nanny? Why she ain’t got no house? Why Nanny got to keep coming over here?’” Besides the stress eroding her physical health, Williams has struggled with suicidal thoughts. The pressure is only made bearable by support from her family, community and faith.

Williams will spend a few nights at her sister’s house, and Community Advocates offered to help her after that. Organizing it all, however, has taken a backseat to waiting for the eviction to be completed. “I haven’t called them,” says Williams, “I’ve just been worried about making sure these people don’t come up in here and just take my clothes and stuff. Because that’s really all I have left, is my clothes.” She describes the experience as “devastating,” and demoralizing. “I’ve been trying and trying and trying to work with this lady,” Williams tells Wisconsin Examiner, now crying.

After a few moments the tears subside, and Williams returns to a more determined tone. “The one thing I’m sitting up here doing is thinking about how can I be a part of fixing this problem,” said Williams. She not only blames Alexis as a landlord, but also the judge for the ruling.

“They said it was happening, but I didn’t believe it,” says Williams, “that the landlord can put people’s lives in their hands and do whatever they want to do with it.”

After a long wait, the sheriffs still haven’t arrived. For Williams, though, that offers no solace.

“That just means that they were really busy today,” she says. “So do she have more evictions that they had to get to before me?”



Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Jacob Blake Sr. arrested at protest in Akron, Ohio

Jacob Blake Sr., whose son was shot by Kenosha police in 2020 triggering days of unrest, was arrested Thursday in Akron, Ohio, by local law enforcement. Blake was joined by family members of Breonna Taylor and other families who’ve experienced police violence, as they protested the shooting of 25-year-old Jayland Walker. Blake and the other family members were charged with rioting, and the city remained under a curfew Friday.

The 25-year-old Walker was killed on June 27. Walker was unarmed and attempting to flee a traffic stop when officers unleashed a hail of around 90 rounds upon him. Walker was struck at least 60 times, and was transported, still handcuffed, to the coroner’s office for an autopsy.

Blake said he was continuing to speak out against police brutality. “We’re here to take a stand,” said Blake, Democracy Now! reported, “because enough is enough. If this was white America and a white boy had been shot 60 times by the police, it would go up in smoke. But because he’s brown and looks like me, 60 shots. … What did he do to provoke? Nobody can provoke someone to shoot them 60 times. No one.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Milwaukee Crime Stoppers offers $28,000 reward for info in killing of transgender woman

Milwaukee Crime Stoppers is offering a $28,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the killing of Brazil Johnson. The 28-year-old transgender Black woman was shot in Milwaukee near Teutonia and Garfield Avenues. No arrests have been made thus far, and the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) continues to search for suspects.

Johnson was killed on June 15. Milwaukee County Supervisor Peter Burgelis announced that the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Cream City Foundation, and Milwaukee Crime Stoppers contributed $1,000 each to the reward pot. Attorney Michael Hupy, president of Milwaukee Crime Stoppers, pledged another $25,000.

Burgelis said in a press conference that as a Black transgender woman, Johnson was a member of a community facing “an epidemic of violence.” He added that the reward money “provides an added incentive for anyone who has information about this horrific crime to come forward and help bring about justice for Brazil’s loved ones.” Kevin Turner, executive director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, praised the efforts to find Johnson’s killers. “We stand with the family as well,” said Turner. “We’re here to support our transgender community [which] is being attacked on record levels and we want to make sure that their voices are being heard.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, Johnson is at least the 17th transgender person to be murdered in the U.S. in 2022. Black transgender women comprise 66% of all victims of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people, according to a Crime Stoppers press release.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Activists worry as Milwaukee inches closer to hosting the Republican convention

On Wednesday Milwaukee city council unanimously approved a contract to host the 2024 Republican National Convention (RNC). The vote secures a second chance for Milwaukee to host a major political convention after the disappointment of hosting the 2020 Democratic National Convention (DNC), which was dramatically scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic If Milwaukee were ultimately chosen to host the RNC , the contract would take effect immediately. Mayor Cavalier Johnson, wearing his DNC pin, signed the contract framework, bringing an end to weeks of anticipation and debate.

Johnson has sidestepped concerns brewing among activists and community leaders over the RNC’s potential social impact on Milwaukee. “This is not a political decision, this is a business one,” he declared. The Cream City’s new mayor has big plans to revitalize the city’s economy. “I want the eyeballs of the world to be on our city,” Johnson said in February when he was still serving as acting-mayor. Although the DNC was dramatically cut back, the city and its police department retained the framework and equipment needed to hold such an event.

Wisconsin legislators on both sides of the aisle have joined the mayor in boosting the prospect of a Milwaukee RNC. But the enthusiasm isn’t universal. Many activists and community members fear that the RNC will both be underwhelming in terms of economic benefit and open the door to volatile rhetoric and could even encourage armed white supremacist Trump supporters to converge on Wisconsin’s most diverse city. Republican talking points about election fraud are a provocation, they say, and the party has advocated policies that have negative effects on minorities and marginalized groups. In late March Milwaukee Election Commission director Clair Woodall-Vogg took to social media to declare that if Milwaukee hosted the RNC she would work from home, “lest I be hung in the town square like some have threatened.” Woodall-Vogg was admonished by Johnson. Like many election workers nationwide, she had received threats after rumors took hold that Milwaukee helped steal the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump.

A joint statement by Voces de la Frontera Action, Never Again is Now, SEIU Wisconsin State Council, Freedom Action Now, and Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) denounced the common council’s 13-0 vote and stated that members were “appalled” by the decision. The group blasted the common council for “legitimizing and normalizing the contemporary Republican Party that has become a modern-day neo-facist party inspired by Donald Trump’s unapologetic allegiance to white supremacist ideas.” It continued that the GOP has “declared war on our democracy,” and the party’s leaders have “enabled and then excused a violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol and are continuously working openly and aggressively to undermine our voting rights.”

The convention will take place as neo-facist groups like Patriot Front and the National Justice Party have organized rallies in Waukesha calling on residents to “resist Black terror.” Racist letters were also left at the homes of Black families in West Allis. Southeastern Wisconsin has continued to see racist political activity in recent weeks.

“The Republican Convention will not have a positive impact on the vast majority of Milwaukee neighborhoods,” the coalition’s letter states. “The claims of a $200 million impact are little more than public relations talking points. They overestimate any real financial gain because Milwaukee’s hotels and restaurants are already filled during the summer. The RNC convention will simply replace those who normally visit our city.” The coalition cites a 2009 study published in the Eastern Economic Journal, which found that hosting the RNC or DNC “has no discernible impact on employment, personal income, or personal income per capita in cities where the events were held, confirming results from other ex post analyses of mega-events.”

A lack of real economic value, particularly for the most vulnerable portions of the city, is a point raised often by activists. Angela Lang, founder and executive director of BLOC, wrote in a commentary for Wisconsin Examiner that “having the RNC in Milwaukee is a disaster waiting to happen.” Lang points out that Republicans have historically not shown much interest in the city, only opening a Republican Party office in Milwaukee in 2020, and making the city a lightning rod for GOP attacks on criminal justice reform. The Republican-led Legislature has caused city budgets to dwindle by choking the flow of state revenue, even though Milwaukee is a major economic engine for the state.

The coalition, of which BLOC is a part, listed a litany of policies pushed by the state’s GOP which have dampened prosperity in Milwaukee. These include stopping the city from implementing paid sick days voters ratified in a citywide referendum vote, cutting funds for public schools, blocking drivers’ licenses for immigrants, and continued battles over generating revenue. In a June 1 tweet Markasa Tucker-Harris, executive director of the African American Roundtable and founder of Liberate MKE, expressed dismay at the prospect of hosting the RNC. “I’m not interested,” she tweeted. “And there are more of me in MKE who aren’t interested. I hope a different city is chosen.”

“We are deeply disappointed that the voices and concerns of Milwaukee’s Black, Brown and immigrant communities and the community members and organizations who publicly opposed the RNC being hosted in Milwaukee were ignored by this vote that normalizes an organization that has embraced white supremacy, authoritarianism, and acts of violence,” the coalition said in a statement. “Inviting the Republican Party to hold its convention in Milwaukee is like inviting the fox into the hen house.”

Johnson’s extolled the benefits he says the convention will bring. “My support of this agreement, which has been long standing, is primarily driven by the benefits that hard-working Milwaukeean’s will receive when the Republican National Convention comes right here to the city,” said Johnson.

The mayor added that he hopes hosting the convention will help repair Milwaukee’s relationship with the Republican-controlled state Legislature. “I think, by and large, this is a good and positive development for the city, good and positive development for the region, good and positive development for the state.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Wisconsin Republicans are scouring for 'inappropriate' books in school districts

Over the past few months, some Wisconsin Republican legislators have been scouring school libraries in their districts for potentially “inappropriate” books. The Legislature won’t return to session until next year. In the meantime, GOP lawmakers appear to be setting the stage for debates around what books should be restricted, and whether staff should be held accountable for providing them to students.

Emails sent and received by elected officials discussing the endeavor were obtained by Wisconsin Examiner through open records requests. For Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona), it began after his office received a list of books by more than 50 authors sent by a concerned parent. The parent did not respond to an email from Wisconsin Examiner seeking comment.

However, in her emails to James, she indicates that she was motivated to compile the list and reach out after learning about a book she felt was inappropriately available in her daughter’s classroom. The list itself contained books which she feared may also be available in schools. Many of the books on the list cover LGBTQ topics and characters, as well as issues of gender identity or sexuality. Among the titles on the list are “Ask a Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love and Life for Girls” and “Two Boys Kissing,” a young adult novel from 2013 about two teenage boys who try breaking a Guinness World Record by kissing for 32 hours straight. Another title on the list is “It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity”, which introduces readers to the concept of gender identity.

Other books on the list focus on stories of ethnic identity, the burden of overcoming racial stereotypes and systemic inequality. These include “I Am not your Perfect Mexican Daughter” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” with characters who grapple with the expectations and discrimination associated with their ethnic identities. There are also books that deal with issues of social justice and police misconduct, such as “Sometimes People March” and “The Hate You Give.”

Here is the list of books sent Rep. Jesse James’ office and passed by James to schools in his district:

Removing exemptions from classroom libraries

On December 17, the concerned parent who contacted James’ office emailed him images from the book “Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens.” She included pictures of pages which explained different forms of sexual contact such as oral sex and “touching and rubbing.” Illustrations accompanied some of the text, in one case a comic-style illustration of two women sitting side by side in a bed together. Parts of the book also discussed topics including navigating online dating and avoiding Sexual Transmitted Infections.

This particular book was also the subject of a July 2021 letter issued to the Elmbrook School District by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). The 14-page document stated that parents with children in Elmbrook, a school district in Waukesha County, had learned that books with explicit images were available to students in grades K-12, including to children as young as third graders. Some of the concerned parents mentioned in WILL’s letter had children as old as 16. The letter from WILL reproduced pages from “The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens.” The concerned parent who contacted James shared the letter from WILL and some of the same pages from the book that were reproduced in WILL’s letter.

“I did meet with [the] principal today,” the concerned parent wrote to James, regarding the book she learned was in her own daughter’s classroom. “He didn’t defend the book, he said he didn’t know it was in the school, told me he would get it out of the classroom and is going to investigate the book and get back to me before break. He did say it had a library tag on it. I also attached the list of other books I know are in our district that are pornographic in nature.” She cited a Wisconsin statute covering “exposing a child to harmful material or harmful descriptions or narrations.” She added in her email to James, “There is the carve-out for schools and libraries exempting them from enforcement under these statutes. Nice eh?”

The concerned parent’s email also mentioned the WILL letter

Wisconsin statutes such 948.11 state that providing “harmful material” to a minor could constitute a Class E felony. “Harmful materials” are defined in the statute as including images or descriptions of sexual excitement, sadmasochistic abuse, physical torture, nudity and brutality. Material that fits the definition “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, scientific, or educational value for children, when taken as whole.” Libraries and educational institutions, however, are protected from penalties since they “carry out the essential purpose” of making available all manner of books, recordings, and reference materials to the public.

Not all of the books included on the list sent to James’ office focused on LGBTQ awareness or sex education. For parents organizing around this issue, raising concerns about sexually explicit content is a main focus. But there are other concerns as well. A March 9 email the concerned parent sent to James’ office further clarified why she felt certain books were a problem.

“This is a good start but here’s where I’m seeing the biggest issue…staff classroom libraries,” she wrote in an email. “I’m not sure how we would regulate them. The book Mac found in her classroom, when the teacher was addressed she stated the book was recommended by a continuing education class she took so she bought it. The principal had no idea it was in the classroom and I certainly can’t expect him to know what every staff member brings into their personal libraries. I have a ton of examples of not only sexual books but books teaching our kids to hate cops and hate their white skin in the classrooms at our elementary schools. How do we stop educators from bringing these into the classrooms?” She added that “we need to get that language changed which excludes them from prosecution.”

James’ office replied to the parent the following evening. “AGREED,” the email reply stated. “We are working on drafting legislation in my office to address this issue. I am supposed to be meeting with parents from Cadott as well. They have these books in the schools there. I am meeting with Altoona in the morning to discuss this as well.”

An email exchange between the concerned parent and Rep. James:


Ending the email with the initials “JJ,” James included in the message a co-sponsorship memo for LRB-6117, which focuses on preventing children from “being exposed to sexually explicit and psychologically damaging material through library databases via innocent book searches and school curricula.”

The memo states that the bill “is designed to protect children from unwanted harmful content that parents don’t want them viewing.” It lays out three strategies, any or all of which all public libraries, charter schools or school boards would be required to employ. They include: Equipping computers with software that would limit students’ ability to access harmful material; purchasing internet service from a provider that provides filters and/or developing and implementing a policy that establishes measures to prevent minors from accessing such material. If harmful material is viewed by a student, then the bill would also require schools to provide parents with a curriculum outline and summary of instructional materials that contain the material. Additionally, all instruction and curriculum must be made available to parents upon request under the bill. It also allows parents to opt students out of instruction by providing a written request.

While James said his office is involved in the legislation, the co-sponsorship memo came from the office of Rep. Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc). Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers), and Sen. Andre Jaque (R-DePere) are also listed on the memo. Jaque introduced the measure as SB-1102 in the Committee on Human Services, Children and Families, on March 15 where it failed to pass. James is listed as a co-sponsor on SB-1102 along with Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha), Rep. David Murphy (R-Greenville), and Rep. Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser).

District-wide searches for certain books

By March, James had begun approaching schools in his district to determine whether any of the books on his constituent’s list were available to students. In an email sent on March 11 James stated that his office “has received numerous contacts from concerned parents over possible inappropriate reading material available to students through their libraries. Attached to this email is a list of books that have raised concern based on the graphic or explicit content they contain.” In the email James wrote that he “would like to know if the libraries in your schools/school districts have these books available to students to check out, and if so, which grade levels have access to these books.”

The list sent to the schools by James’ office was an unaltered copy of the one his constituent had provided. James confirmed as much to Wisconsin Examiner. “I believe we had communication with every single school district in the 68th Assembly,” James told the Examiner. He added that, “I believe everybody got back to us. And most of them referred to their online libraries. And then our staff had to do some due diligence to determine what was in there.” James’ emails inquiring about books were handled as open records requests by the school districts. Some returned the list after highlighting books they had located. Some included their policies for checking out or accessing content intended only for older students.

A response from a school district to Rep. James’ office:


On March 14, James followed up with the parent who first contacted him to confirm that he had begun reaching out to school districts. “YAAAAAASSSSS!!!!!!,” she responded, adding that James should meet another “warrior parent” she’s familiar with. “I sent you the pics of the one that teaches our kids to hate cops on FB messenger and the one that tells them to hate their white skin.”

When asked about these emails, James walked back from the tone in the parent’s messages. “I did not review any books regarding hating cops, or any kind of racism,” said James, “it was more about addressing the pornographic and illicit images and narrations.” He added that the effort to seek out certain books was geared towards elementary school ages. While some of the books seemed framed more around sex education, James recalled one book which “actually had illustrations of male-on-male oral sex, and sexual laying in bed.” James added that he did not research every single book on the list and could not confirm whether this book was also on the list.

One of two emails the concerned parent sent James regarding books with racial or social justice topics:

Re Open Records Request- Library Books (Maggie)

“I’ve had cases where I’ve had to take people into custody for this, for exposing a child to harmful material,” said James, who served as police and fire chief of Altoona. “And I think this meets the same type of criteria. I mean, I don’t know if it would be enough probable cause for an arrest. I haven’t had that discussion with any district attorneys. But that gives me an idea, I should probably discuss that with the district attorney to see if that statutorily would meet probable cause for an arrest.”

Nevertheless James stressed, “that’s not the whole intent here. I think the intent is `let’s protect our young children’s eyes.’” James also said it isn’t the legislation’s intention to penalize school or library staff for providing certain books,” despite seemingly agreeing with that suggestion during a March 2022 email exchange with the concerned parent who sent the list.

“My goal with this is specifically to look at 948.11, the definitions of what is inappropriate material, as well as what materials are in our schools like the explicit illustrations and narrations that are provided in some of these books,” James explained. “That’s my whole intent. It has nothing to do with the schools, I never bashed any school or their administration. My goal, as a legislator, is to gather the information, go through it, and to see what I can do as a legislator to address it through state statute. I mean, that’s what our roles are.”

He stressed that, “this is strictly regarding pornographic explicit illustrations and narrations that are available because we have defiantly become a sexualized society. And there doesn’t go a day where you don’t see something on the news where this person is arrested for sexual assault of a child, or this person is arrested for child pornography, or this person is arrested for familial incest. You know, that’s very concerning to me and I think we do have an obligation as a society to protect the young children.”

While one concerned parent’s list was used as a guide for the book search, she wasn’t the only one emailing James’ office. Nor was James the only legislator scouting his district for what could be in the library. On March 28, a research assistant from Rep. Allen’s office reached out to Joseph Como Jr., president of the Waukesha school board asking for “feedback on a school issue that a constituent has raised with us.”

Note from the office of Rep. Scott Allen to Waukesha’s school superintendent:


Mirroring points raised in the emails to James, the message from Allen’s office noted that public elementary schools are exempt from penalties for distributing “obscene material” to a minor. “The concern that a constituent raised is that there is no need for an elementary school library to be exempt as there should be no reason for an elementary school library having in its possession any material that could be considered ‘obscene.’ This leaves a potential loophole for children to be exposed to obscene material and for there to be no legal avenue for addressing that.” The email offered Como an opportunity to provide feedback on that issue to Allen, calling it “part of this exploratory process.”

Despite Allen approaching the Waukesha school board in the same month that James reached out to schools in his own district, the representatives say they didn’t communicate with each other. Allen’s office stated that it was not provided with a list of books nor did it “reach out to any school districts or libraries to see if certain materials were provided to students.” James said that his own efforts to seek out books in his district were not related to SB-1102 or LRB-6117. James added that his office did not share the list of books with other legislators. “Not to my knowledge,” he told Wisconsin Examiner. “I didn’t share it with anybody. I just took it as far as specific to the 68th Assembly district.”

In a response to Wisconsin Examiner, Allen’s office added that “there was no outcome” following his meeting with Como. “The meeting was about gathering research.” Allen added that it was one of his own constituents who reached out, and that his office did not coordinate with any other of SB-1102’s co-sponsors or authors. Allen said that, “as a representative, it is my duty to take the time to understand the nature of the concerns of constituents and the nature of the current law.” While James is looking at Wisconsin statute 948.11, Allen pointed to Wisconsin statute 944.21 (5) as laying out penalties regarding exposing minors to obscene materials. Those range from Class A forfeiture, a Class A misdemeanor, or a Class H felony depending on the violation.

Sortwell told Wisconsin Examiner that his office worked with Rep. Tittl on an Assembly version of SB-1102 “per a constituent concerned with the Manitowoc Public Library System.” “If a teacher knowingly shows inappropriate sexually explicit materials to the class, then there should be disciplinary action from the school towards that teacher,” said Sortwell. His office did not answer specific questions including whether it received a list of specific books.

Tittl’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. His emails show that he was in contact with constituents regarding legislative options for addressing “erotica and pornography” in school libraries, and exemptions of education institutions from state statutes. Magnafici’s office stated it did not have records responsive to Wisconsin Examiner’s request. Jacque’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

What happens when books are banned?

It’s widely understood that educational materials given to students at school should be appropriate to their age group. As James explained in one of his emails regarding the list, “I find reading some of these books are not appropriate for our children to be exposed to. We just can’t have carte blanche for all grades. We have to protect our children. I believe in the birds and the bees, but some of the content in my opinion has crossed the line.”

But the district-wide book searches weren’t exclusively for materials with sexual topics. Valeria Cerda, who started La Revo Books in Milwaukee with her sister Barbara, reviewed the list of works distributed by James’ office. The sisters, daughters of Milwaukee’s South Side, come from a working-class, immigrant background. This cultural influence shapes La Revo Books, with its wide selection of new and used books by and for Black, indigenous, and people of color with a particular focus on Latin American culture. “La Revo,” Cerda explained, “is short for ‘The Revolution.’”

“It just seems like they’re afraid of difficult conversations,” Cerda told Wisconsin Examiner. “That’s what it seems like.” It’s a recurring theme Cerda has noticed in the conversations about what books shouldn’t be allowed in schools, critical race theory, and other debates about what minors should be allowed to learn. Cerda added, “What’s harmful is also very relative. I think if a book about LGBTQ issues or with identity is considered harmful to you, then maybe you should read, you know? I think it’s like re-establishing their biases.”

Cerda argues that reading about identity, whether cultural, sexual or gender-based, “can cause an internal revolution, and it does change the way people see themselves and how they relate to the world.” Learning that efforts have been underway in parts of the state to restrict books on those issues, and even prosecute people over it, is a frightening thought for Cerda. “It seems like it’s more about an ability to control, rather than the books themselves.” Some of the books on the list are works La Revo Books has carried.

“’I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter’ has actually been one of our best sellers when it first came out,” said Cerda. “And it’s still very popular.” Other books on the list, like “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” and LGBTQ-related books have also been part of the inventory at La Revo. “Seeing books that we definitely would stock on this list is like, very threatening and it’s sad and scary at the same time,” Cerda told Wisconsin Examiner. For Cerda, the efforts remind her of the history of conquest of indigenous peoples, which included the destruction of accumulated knowledge and records. “It’s really an act of violence to try to erase stories — and written stories,” emphasized Cerda.

Aaron Eick, an educator from Racine and a Voces de la Frontera board member, sees restricting books as part of a general movement toward a more repressive atmosphere in schools. Eick, who teaches Latin American history and African American history, says, “It’s hard for a teacher like me, who I often bring my own resources to class because it’s just easier.”

“And I have, for the last two years because of lawsuits, had to turn in my curriculum to the central office in order to be looked at by [WILL],” he adds.

“It’s an attack on the children and the families, their histories,” Eick says of what he calls “the effort to try to rewind time to where white males can dominate.” Both Eick and Cera say that efforts to restrict certain books in schools will make children in marginalized groups feel alienated, alone, and unwanted.

If young children have questions about the way they feel, their bodies or their history, addressing the heavy prevalence of LGBTQ books on the list, James said, “the children need to have discussions with their parents, and not the teachers.”

“If I was a teacher and a child came up to me and asked that, I don’t even know how I would answer that question,” he added. “But I would definitely want to have a conversation with the child’s parents. … I think there needs to be that dialogue and communication with the parents. And I think that’s something that we’re missing today. We’ve lost this element of just open communication and being able to share between the teacher and the parent, for the best interests of the child. Whether that child has questions about the LGBTQ, or their sexual desires and all that stuff, this is stuff we can jointly look at and take care of for the child’s sake. That’s what it comes down to.”

While James stressed that there was no intention to target specific schools or groups like LGBTQ people, he said, “This is a divisive topic. People are going to live how they feel they need to live. It’s not my job or duty to tell people how to live. It’s called free will, everybody has that individual choice in their life. Legislatively, I’m not looking to make laws to make it more difficult to educate this, or tell teachers what they have to do. That’s not my role. My role is to look at statutory language, because for me it is about fighting for our future and looking out for the interests of our children.”

“The move to ban books is a blatant attack on the freedom of expression, which protects students’ rights to read, learn and share ideas free from viewpoint-based censorship,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin told the Examiner in a statement. “These bans in schools are misguided attempts to try to suppress that right. Book bans specifically aim to remove books that are by and about communities of color, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups. Censoring books on this basis is discriminatory and antithetical to our First Amendment rights.”

The debate is bound to heat up when the legislative session begins early next year.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Milwaukee officials blast Republican inaction on gun laws

The city of Milwaukee continues to process a series of shootings in the downtown area last weekend. Known as the “Deer District,” in homage to the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, the downtown entertainment district saw a trio of shooting sprees between 9:10 p.m. and 11:54 p.m., leaving more than 20 people injured. All of the victims, ranging from 15-47 years of age, are expected to recover. Ten people were arrested, 17 were left injured, and 10 firearms were recovered from just one of the shootings. Five of those injured during that incident, according to the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD), were also armed and taken into custody. All of the incidents remain under investigation. A curfew was declared for people under 21 years of age, and downtown businesses reported fewer customers as people stayed away.

Developing long-term solutions related to gun control strategies has been a tough sell in the state Legislature. Milwaukee officials underscored the lack of discussion of those strategies in the wake of the latest shootings. Mayor Cavalier Johnson, in a press conference over the weekend, condemned the weekend shootings.

“We cannot have that in this city, nor anywhere else in this state, nor anywhere else in this country,” said Johnson. “And by the way, as well, I will say this,” the mayor continued. “Before somebody gets to the point where they have a gun, and they’re upset, and their tempers go off, and they decide to shoot in a crowd full of people, you have to think about whether those folks should have access to a gun in the first place. I don’t think it’s crazy to say that those people should not. They obviously don’t have the responsibility to wield the weapon. So, we need to make sure that there’s repercussions for folks when they do things like that. But we also have to work on the preventive end to make sure that folks don’t have that access to firearms in the first place.”

The mayor’s sentiments were shared by some state legislatures, who pointed to policies which help perpetuate gun violence in the city. “Despite continued violence in our communities and innocent people getting hurt,” said Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) in a May 17 statement, “Republicans have not budged on their lax approach to guns in our communities, which has allowed guns to flow to criminals and individuals with violence in their minds.” Bowen denounced what he called “the dangerous opposition from Republicans to common sense gun safety legislation [that] has allowed guns to continue to flow into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.”

The nexus between the historic loosening of state gun laws, surges in gun ownership, and spikes in Milwaukee’s homicides is clear from data comparing these phenomena. Between 2011 and 2020, for example, the number of concealed-carry licenses issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) appeared to mirror rises and falls in homicide numbers. In other words, years where concealed-carry license issuance and renewals decreased, so too did the number of homicides in the city, and vice versa. In 2015, former Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation eliminating the state’s 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases. That same year Milwaukee experienced 147 homicides. Of those, 119 involved firearms, and 80% of that year’s shootings involved handguns. The prior year of 2014 had seen just 86 homicides. Another jump occurred in 2020 to 190 homicides, compared to 97 in 2019. Both spikes in homicides in 2015 and 2020 were also accompanied by increases in concealed-carry licenses being newly issued, or renewed.

Reluctance to discuss gun control legislation at the state level has carried over beyond the Walker era. Proposals by Democratic legislators have roundly failed in the State Assembly. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers passed legislation that protects gun manufacturers and dealers from being held liable if their firearms are used to murder people. Wisconsin has few restrictions when it comes to the sale and distribution of firearms. As long as you’re not knowingly selling to a felon or someone who’s prohibited from owning a gun, few barriers exist. Wisconsin is both a concealed-carry and an open-carry state. A requirement for licensed gun dealers in Wisconsin to conduct a background check doesn’t extend to private sellers. In 2020, as homicides in Milwaukee climbed to new heights, Wisconsin experienced record-breaking gun sales.

In a statement to Wisconsin Examiner, Mayor Johnson agreed that gun manufacturers and dealers have a responsibility to the community. “Yes,” said Johnson, “companies and individuals involved in making and distributing guns have a moral obligation to promote responsible gun ownership. I have not seen them embracing that obligation.” He further outlined what Milwaukee needs in terms of gun-related legislation. “I would favor significantly beefed-up background checks on all gun sales, limits on military-style firearms, restrictions on ammunition magazine capacity, and a return to common-sense restrictions on concealed carry.” When asked if the city could explore some of these ideas on its own Johnson said, “The answer is no. The city is preempted from any gun restrictions. The one exception is our ability to restrict guns in city-owned buildings.”

Bowen stressed that, “we cannot overlook the fact that the easy availability of guns for criminals on our streets is not just contributing to this violence, but is driving it. No one in our state, whether people or businesses, benefits from continued gun violence, and without a serious reconsideration of our state’s lax gun laws, our citizens will continue to suffer needlessly.”

Sen. LaTonya Johnson also remarked on the silence on the gun control topic within the halls of government. Johnson recalled a special session called for by Gov. Tony Evers in late 2019 focusing on gun violence. “I showed up to do my job,” said Johnson, recalling victims of gun violence in Milwaukee including 10-year-old Sierra Guyton, 5–year-old Laylah Peterson, 13-month-old Baby Bill Thao, 13-year-old Sandra Parks, and others who’ve compelled her to keep pushing the issue.

“The funerals have been too many to name them all,” said Johnson. “Not only did Wisconsin Republicans fail to show up and do their jobs on that day in November, but they have continued, year after year, to reject widely-supported gun violence prevention policies like universal background checks.” Johnson also pointed out that Republican policies have reduced the city’s budget, making it difficult for Milwaukee to invest in violence prevention strategies. Over $100 million in funds to augment public safety statewide has been allocated by Evers, alongside $45 million to support violence prevention efforts.

Some 3,279 guns were recovered by Milwaukee PD last year, 2,918 of which were placed into evidence. That tops the 3,097 guns recovered in 2020, and eclipses the 2,621 guns recovered during 2019. The department’s ShotSpotter audio system, used to detect and locate probable gunfire, was activated over 21,479 times in 2021. Keep in mind that not all of those alerts are necessarily gunfire, and could have other causes. So far this year, 1,190 guns have been taken off the street, and MPD is tracking 83 homicides. In a report by the Wisconsin Examiner, the department said it does not track how many guns involved in fatal and non-fatal shootings were lawfully or illegally owned.

Sen. Johnson emphasized that the city needs new solutions. “The bottom line is this,” she said, “during my time in the legislature I have pleaded for my Republican colleagues to address this issue in a meaningful way. Their solutions are always to hire more police and increase penalties but never to pass legislation that would close gun loopholes to help rid our city of the abundance of guns on our city streets.”

She called out Republican elected officials for being “always the first ones to demonize my city — to line up at press conferences and tell us they know better, to blame us for the criminal actions of a few, and they are also the first ones to tell us ‘no’ when we ask for help. It’s time they stop fearing gun lobbyists and start fearing for the victims, families, friends and neighbors of those who have to live with these casualties and statistics every single day.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Wisconsin communities see startling uptick in white supremacist activity

In late March, a banner reading “Resist Black Terror” was hung from the Waukesha Transit Center’s parking garage. Quotes from Adolph Hitler were allegedly featured on the banner calling for a new nation for “only white people(s) of good stock,” and promoting a website linked to a recognized white supremacist group. Exactly who was responsible remains unclear, as local media were asked to not publish the group’s website after the banner was taken down. The incident confronted local officials with what appears to be a growing undercurrent of white supremacist activity in the area, and this phenomenon is not unique to Waukesha.

The last two years has seen a resurgence of seemingly organized white supremacist activity in the areas surrounding Milwaukee. In Waukesha, such groups have ridden a wave of anger and mourning around the Christmas parade tragedy. Six people were killed and dozens more hospitalized after an SUV plowed through Waukesha’s annual Christmas parade. Police quickly arrested the driver, 39-year-old Darrell Brooks of Milwaukee, for the act. Brooks, who is Black, had been released on a low bail before the parade tragedy, a point which many Republican legislators used to blast the city of Milwaukee, District Attorney John Chisholm, and criminal justice reform policies.

Protests and rallies held in the wake of the Christmas parade tragedy featured signs with messages like, “Stop BLM Terror,” “Stop anti-white hate,” and “Justice for Waukesha.” Some protesters called for hate crime charges against Brooks. People at one rally represented a mix of members of established white power groups. Images of the rally surfaced in a 400 gigabyte leak of materials from a Patriot Front chat server, a group which promotes neo-facist and white nationalist ideologies. The leaks were published by the independent media outlet Unicorn Riot in January.

One group represented at the rally was the National Justice Party (NJP), which formed in August 2020 and describes itself as an advocate for “white civil rights, the working and middle class and the traditional family.” Members identified themselves with buttons at the rally. Patriot Front was also linked to the Waukesha rally. Recently, the NJP began promoting a documentary called “Terror in Waukesha,” describing Brooks as a “black terrorist.” Law enforcement in Waukesha, however, have rejected the notion that parade tragedy was an act of terror.

After the racist banner was hung in view of city hall, Waukesha City Administrator Kevin Lahner said the city didn’t want this sort of message spread. “We noticed an uptick in this following the Darrell Brooks arrest,” Lahner told local media, “and so we’ve seen more activity like that. Folks on social media, folks being in town that have those sorts of messages.” Captain Dan Baumann of the Waukesha Police Department spoke of the uptick in more general terms. “We have seen both sides of the fence, if you will, exercise their First Amendment rights,” Baumann told Wisconsin Examiner. “While the behavior and message is something we don’t condone — we have seen hate speech since the 2020 protests and riots throughout the country — I don’t believe I would isolate it to a particular group with a specific ideology.”

Wisconsin Examiner reached out to all 15 alders on the Waukesha Common Council and received no reply to inquiries about white supremacist protests. In nearby West Allis, local authorities are continuing to investigate cases of property damage and racist letters targeting Black residents in the community. In early March, a family reported to police that someone smashed their car windows, slashed tires and left behind letters using racial slurs for Black people and telling the family to leave the neighborhood. The incidents were so disturbing that the family sent their daughter to live with relatives.

The harassment occurred about a week before racist banners were hung in Waukesha. West Allis Police Department (WAPD) Deputy Chief Robert Fletcher told Wisconsin Examiner that in March 2021, “the WAPD received a report of vandalism with a threatening note with racist language, and a separate report of a note with racist language.” Both of those incidents targeted the same victim, someone different from the family targeted in early March, 2022. As of April 7, the WAPD has opened yet another case involving someone leaving behind threatening racist notes. Fletcher said that while the department has no updates, “the incidents are being thoroughly investigated. As this is an active, ongoing investigation, we are not releasing specific details regarding the investigation at this time.”

During the protests of 2020, West Allis again contended with someone distributing white supremacist literature. In early June 2020, Milwaukee’s Fusion Center distributed an intelligence bulletin after dozens of anti-Semitic fliers were hung in West Allis and nearby Milwaukee neighborhoods. The fliers read “white lives matter,” piggy-backing off the theme of police shootings which fueled that summer of protest. They also declared “you will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us,” echoing a racist trope about white Anglo Saxon protestants being displaced by other ethnic groups.

Those same phrases were featured in white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. White power groups chanted the phrases as they marched with lit torches through the city’s streets during violent clashes that ended in one anti-racist protester’s death and many injuries.

The name of a group, the “White Aryan Resistance,” was also featured on materials in West Allis during 2020. Fletcher said that his department was aware of the Fusion Center bulletin. “These four cases were all in the same geographic area,” he said, explaining that the fliers had been left on front lawns. “The WAPD was unable to determine who left the fliers.”

A very similar episode occurred in the city of Wauwatosa the same summer. Letters were distributed to neighbors by a group calling itself “the Whites for Wauwatosa.” The letters were sent to people who’d purchased yard signs which expressed displeasure at the actions of city leadership. While the signs weren’t obviously racist, the letters declared that “we whites must stand together.” It continued that “we must keep Wauwatosa free from Blacks and their lack of morals. We must keep Blacks from destroying our property, raping our wives and daughters, and recruiting our children into street gangs. We MUST keep Wauwatosa great. Together we can keep Wauwatosa white! Together we can keep Wauwatosa safe!”

The Wauwatosa Police Department, which monitored and disrupted Black Lives Matter protests, stated that it wouldn’t investigate the letters since they didn’t rise to the level of criminal activity.

In the city of Milwaukee, vaguer white supremacist messages were left outside City Hall during the summer of 2020. “Knights Templar are reborn,” they read, followed by a Latin phrase translating to “God Wills It.” A relic from the Crusades, the phrase has been adopted by some modern white power groups. Both the Wauwatosa and Milwaukee police departments told Wisconsin Examiner they haven’t received recent reports of racist or white supremacist activity.

Fletcher stressed that the activity in his own jurisdiction is being taken seriously. “The city of West Allis is committed to being a diverse and supportive community, racially motivated crimes undermine this commitment,” said Fletcher. “In addition to any physical or financial loss associated with these crimes, there is a serious emotional loss suffered by the victims. The West Allis Police Department is committed to making the city of West Allis a safe community for all and as such takes these incidents very seriously and will ensure that they are thoroughly investigated.”

Wisconsin’s long-standing ties to white supremacy

For some, the prevalence of this activity isn’t surprising. Milwaukee, known as one of the nation’s most segregated areas, is home to nearly 70% of Wisconsin’s Black population. In the city of Milwaukee, 64.2% of the population is white, followed by 27.2% for Black residents, 15.6% for Hispanics and 4.7% for residents of Asian descent.

The city of West Allis, while in Milwaukee County, shares a border with Waukesha County. Of the 59,000 people who live in West Allis, 80.4% are white,13% Hispanic, 6% Black and 3% Asian. Wauwatosa is similar — 84.3% of the population is white, compared to 5.7% for Black residents. Waukesha, according to U.S., is 92% White, 3.8% Asian, 4.9% Hispanic and 1.8% Black.

The suburbs of Milwaukee have long-standing histories of discrimination. Wauwatosa, for instance, was a restrictive-zoning city where Black home ownership was actively discouraged for decades. Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington are mostly white, heavily Republican counties west, north, and northwest of Milwaukee respectively.

In the suburb of New Berlin the National Socialist White People’s Party, later renamed the New Order, has its headquarters. The organization has been situated there since the 1980s, on 88 acres of property, the number 88 being a Nazi code code for “hail Hitler.” In Baraboo, a group of boys appearing to give a Nazi salute in a prom picture made national news in 2019.

Anne Bonds, an associate professor in UW-Milwaukee’s department of geography, has focused much of her research on how racist history has endured to this day. “These things have always been with us,” Bonds told Wisconsin Examiner. “Specifically white supremacy and white nationalism, these things have never gone away. But of course, we know that there have been moments in time where we see an explosion or growth, and a more visible presence of these groups on the landscape. And, certainly, that’s what we’ve observed over the last few years.”

Bonds notes that during the Trump presidency white nationalist ideology crept into the mainstream. After the racist riot in Charlettesville, the former president was reluctant to specifically condemn the white power groups that descended on the city.

In a backlash against public health orders during the pandemic, people marched with Confederate flags in Madison, and Black legislators endured death threats and racist harassment for supporting stay-at-home orders and other COVID policies.

Bonds also sees the clashes in Kenosha after the shooting of Jacob Blake as a pivotal moment. News of the Waukesha parade tragedy followed closely the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the self-styled teen militia member who fired his semi-automatic weapon on protesters in Kenosha and was acquitted in the deaths of two people. Bonds said the tragedy in Waukesha “was weaponized by these organizations across the United States to say that this is some kind of retaliation from Black Lives Matter groups to the acquittal of Rittenhouse.”

White supremacist groups have mostly operated underground, with activity flaring up around particular events. Whether it’s the election of the nation’s first Black president, the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, or tragedies like Waukesha that can be harnessed by fascist and white power groups, “these groups have never gone away” Bonds tells Wisconsin Examiner. Among them are the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Patriot Front, Knights Templar and others. Over the last two years, “there’s these groups that felt more comfortable being more explicit in their message,” Bonds says. “And we saw that here in Wisconsin, too.”

Bonds herself has seen stickers put up around downtown Milwaukee advertising a local white power group in the recent past. “People are recruiting more explicitly, and there’s some kind of level of acceptance that’s been established,” she says. “And using certain events, really tacking on Black Lives Matter really emboldens this sort of reactionary response … But also this idea that people need to defend their neighborhoods and their homes.”

Bonds notes that the rhetoric expressed in the Whites of Wauwatosa letters demonstrates this classic dimension of white power ideology. “That is really picking up on some of the very ways that those kinds of ideas shaped the founding of those neighborhoods in the first place,” she says. Some of the first housing covenants barring non-white home ownership, Bonds noted, were established in Wauwatosa’s Washington Highlands neighborhood in 1919.

The Oak Creek Law of 1955 made it easier for suburban areas to remain independent from the city of Milwaukee. Bonds describes the 1950s as “the period of white flight, where white people are moving out of cities and moving into suburbs specifically because they don’t want to live next to people of color. Black Americans especially, but also Jewish Americans and other groups that were vilified at the time. But definitely always targeting African Americans. So these surrounding suburbs are purposely designed and created to be white enclaves,” with policies excluding people of color and other ethnic groups.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 12 racist groups in Wisconsin. Not all of the organizations are white power groups; the list includes the Nation of Islam, which the law center lists as anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, the New Order, Patriot Front, Proud Boys, The Base, United Skinhead Nation, Women for Aryan Unity, and others are present throughout the state.

The far-right John Birch Society has a long history in Wisconsin and still maintains a headquarters in Appleton, a group Bonds points out which has historically been anti-immigrant and “very opposed to neighborhood integration, or efforts to reduce segregation.” It’s difficult to determine the identity of groups or individuals that have vandalized property and left behind racist fliers and letters recently, however.

Bonds finds hope in Wisconsin’s progressive and activist history. “You know, Waukesha was a site of the Underground Railroad,” she says . “Wisconsin, at one point in time, had a pretty strong abolitionist movement. So, within all of this there’s also these histories of groups that have always confronted these efforts, and confronted racism and white supremacy.”

She believes it’s important not to ignore the actions of extremists. “While it’s really disturbing to see everything that’s happening, having these conversations is essential to make sure that this doesn’t continue,” says Bonds. “We don’t want to just ignore it, because these groups exist. And we need to take them seriously, and talk about what their presence means in our communities.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Beware charity scams that mention Ukraine

With a new humanitarian crisis catalyzed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a lot of people are seeking ways to help. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Intuitions (DFI) are warning consumers to do research before donating money to a charity. Phone and online scams are seeking to exploit sympathy for Ukrainians victimized by the Russian invasion.

“Scammers see tragedies as a way to line their pockets at the expense of well-meaning citizens,” said Lara Sutherlin, administrator for DATCP’s Division of Trade and Consumer Protection. “Give generously to a charity if you are inclined, but always research an organization before sending money.”

Michelle Knuese, administrator for DFI’s Division of Corporate and Consumer Services, echoed the warning. “We certainly encourage generosity to help the people in Ukraine but caution donors to avoid questionable appeals,” said Knuese. “With a little research and a few precautions, you can help protect yourself from scammers and make sure you are donating to a legitimate charity.”

Fake charity scams can come from a phone call, through the mail, or online. Mimicking the names of major established charities, the scams often seem convincing. Consumers are encouraged to pay attention to whether web addresses end in .org or .com — since the latter indicates that the organization is not a nonprofit charitable group. Scammers also utilize social media and send out spam text messages that can also expose phones and computers to malware and hacking. If a charity was created since the invasion began, be particularly cautious, experts warn.

If you want to verify that a charity is real, try to find contact information for the charity besides the number or email address which initiated the pitch. You can also check to see if a charity is registered in Wisconsin by visiting DFI’s website. Complaints can be filed at the DATCP website, or by emailing

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

'Don't choke my vote': Voting rights protesters descend on Reagan Day Dinner

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow a ban on ballot drop boxes during elections in April generated a backlash from voting rights advocates in the state. Organizers from the Poor People’s Campaign, Souls to the Polls, Voces de la Frontera, Fight for $15, and other activist groups showed up to raise their voices on Friday evening outside the Radisson Hotel in Wauwatosa, where the state GOP’s annual Reagan Day Dinner was underway.

“These diners at the Radisson know that we could win these elections if they played them fair,” Rev. Greg Lewis, founder of Souls to the Polls, said during the rally. “So they have to do everything they can to make it difficult for us.” Lewis spoke to a crowd of a couple of dozen protesters gathered on the sidewalk near the hotel. The crowd’s energy seemed unaffected by the heavy winds that buffeted them. Among the items created for the demonstration was a towering walking puppet in the image of Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who attended the dinner at the Radisson.

“The people coming to this expensive dinner tonight are people who want us to be quiet and go away,” said Lewis. “They want us to stop voting so they can control who leads our communities, our state and our nation. We will fight back every step of the way. We will win back our state and we will rebuild a society where everyone matters, everyone is cared for and everyone can flourish in their own way.”

The dropbox ban stems from a January ruling by Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren. Bohren declared that absentee ballot dropboxes are illegal under state law. Later the Wisconsin Court of Appeals stayed the ban. However, the stay was removed on Feb. 11 by the Supreme Court, and dropboxes will not be permitted in the April elections. The Supreme Court has not yet decided what will become of absentee ballot dropboxes in the longer term. Sarah Weinstraub, a member of the Poor People’s Movement, introduced herself as a working mother of four. “I deserve to be able to vote freely and fairly in this election,” said Weinstraub. “That includes voting early, voting in dropboxes, registering on Election Day, and everything else that makes voting more accessible for all.”

Republican lawmakers and legal groups have repeatedly accused Democrats of using absentee ballots to facilitate voter fraud. False allegations of voter fraud flow from disproven allegations that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. Recent polls show that more than half of Republican voters won’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t buy into what’s now known as Trump’s “big lie” that the election was stolen.

Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) stressed the importance of voting. “This is about our families,” said Johnson. “This is about youth, and this is about your ability to live your lives.” Johnson emphasized that, “as Milwaukee goes, so does the rest of this state.” Pointing out that Milwaukee has some of the highest rates of infant mortality, mass incarceration and morbidity for Black people, Johnson also blasted recent comments by Sen. Ron Johnson, who attended the Reagan Day dinner. “People decide to have families and become parents, that’s something they need to consider when they make that choice,” Johnson said in a January interview with WKBT. “I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of people’s children.”

Sen. LaTonya Johnson declared that the fight for equality “starts at the ballot box.” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, highlighted the Reagan Dinner’s role in fundraising for GOP causes. “It is so important that we call out the people in the Radisson right now who are raising money to attack our rights,” said Neumann-Ortiz. “They are raising money to pluck everything that’s good and popular, such as immigration reform, restoring drivers’ licenses, fully funded education, childcare, affordable permanent housing, all of those things that the majority of people here in Milwaukee and in Wisconsin and across this country support. We are not going to let them silence us. We are standing up, we are united, we are part of a modern-day voter rights movement.”


Christine Sinicki, interim chair of the Milwaukee Democratic Party, pointed to voter suppression efforts in the Legislature including bills that would make it illegal for people to drop off absentee ballots for a spouse or friend. Restrictions on absentee ballots affect families in a wide variety of ways, she said.

During the rally speeches, some protesters noticed hotel staff taking down license plate numbers of cars in the lot. Soon afterward, Wauwatosa officers arrived to talk to some of the demonstrators.

Outagami County Executive and candidate for U.S. Senate Tom Nelson declared, “We have got to stand up to these bullies, because it’s our right to vote. And not just our right to vote, but the next generation and the generation after that.” Nelson recounted that his wife, who is a cancer survivor, was unable to vote due to the pandemic. “She wasn’t going to go to a polling site because she had an immuno-compromised system and it was during the pandemic, and she didn’t get her absentee ballot until after the election,” said Nelson. While some Republican officials claim absentee ballots are a vehicle for voter fraud, many voters see their ability to cast an absentee ballot as a matter of safety.

Following the speeches, rally-goers gathered for a brief march around the hotel’s parking lot. As soon as they entered the lot however, Wauwatosa officers exited the building to direct marchers off the private property and back to the sidewalk. Later, hotel staff denied Wisconsin Examiner and other media outlets entry into the building on orders from the general manager. This was despite a police sergeant having granted permission for media to enter and talk with Johnson’s staff during the dinner itself.

Some protesters had purchased tickets to the dinner, and live streamed the dinner on Facebook. Johnson spoke of defending conservative values. “We never thought we’d have to defend them,” said Johnson. “Who ever thought that we’d have to defend freedom? Who ever thought you had to defend the family as a foundational building block to any successful society? We just never even thought about it. But all of that’s been under assault. You talk about a culture war, we didn’t want to go to war. We didn’t start this. We just want to be left alone, to raise our family, live our life in peace and security. Use that freedom to build a life for ourselves. That’s not what the left wants.”

The protesters disrupted the dinner with a banner drop, after which they were escorted away. “You scream like a crazy person and prove all of us right about you,” one of the dinner speakers yelled over a microphone.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Lawyers push against ‘knee-jerk’ calls for punitive policies after Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy

In the aftermath of the tragedy at the on Nov. 21, there have been calls across the state for a review of the low bail set for Brooks, who was released after being charged with other violent crimes, as well as a push for broader changes to the criminal justice system. A joint resolution in the Legislature, proposed by Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield) and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R- Racine) would create a new constitutional amendment to make judges consider the dangerousness of a defendant when setting bail.

More than 60 people were injured and six were killed after a vehicle plowed into the parade in Waukesha last month. Eight-year-old Jason Sparks became the sixth person to die when he succumbed to wounds suffered in the incident two days later. Many of the wounded remain in the hospital. Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, the driver of the vehicle, faces six counts of homicide among other charges.

About two weeks before the Christmas parade tragedy, on Nov. 11, Brooks was released on $1,000 bail after being arrested on a domestic violence charge. Prosecutors say Brooks attempted to strike the mother of his child with a fist, and then tried to run her over with the same vehicle he was driving during the Waukesha parade. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the decision to release Brooks, with District Attorney John Chisholm calling the $1,000 amount “inappropriately low,” given the charges.

Brooks is currently confined with a $5 million bail. When he appeared in court on Tuesday, prosecutors stated they’re interested in modifying Brooks’ bail in two other pending cases against him in Milwaukee County. Brooks’ public defender also withdrew in court on Tuesday, citing a conflict of interest due to a connection with one of the victims. On Dec. 1, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin requested a moment of silence for the victims in Waukesha on the Senate floor. A bipartisan group of Wisconsin congressmen did the same in the House.

Scapegoating the bail system, and justice reform

As the Waukesha community and the state reel from the tragedy, some advocates are concerned about a brewing backlash against progressive criminal justice policies. Deja Vishny, a criminal defense attorney in Milwaukee and the retired head of the state public defender’s homicide practice group, says in Brooks’ case, parts of the system worked as intended. The current standards “recommended that he was a high risk and that a higher cash bail should have been set,” Vishny tells Wisconsin Examiner.

She and other defense attorneys worry that a push to set higher bail in reaction to this case will have unintended consequences, punishing low-income people who have not yet had their day in court.

“Most people who are out on bail never commit another crime when they’re out on bail,” she says. “And we are unnecessarily locking people up on bail when they haven’t been found guilty of any crime, when more well-to-do people can pay the bail and poor people can’t.”

The longer someone is incarcerated on bail, the more unstable their lives become. Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, advises against a rush to make bail and pretrial detention more punitive. “I would caution care when we have an incident and try to then apply that incident to inform policy decisions,” says Meyn. “I think it’s a really treacherous path to take and I don’t suggest doing so.” He adds that, “I think we want to immediately punish someone, change some rule, make someone accountable for a decision. At the end of the day, if we could understand in this world that we live in that tragedy happens — it’s going to happen whether you detain people or not.” Although Meyn says he is heartbroken for the Waukesha community, he warns that reacting to a tragedy doesn’t necessarily inform good policy.

Meyn highlights specific language in Wisconsin’s bail statute. At its core, the statute is designed to assure an appearance in court by the accused. “If bail is imposed,” the statute reads, “it shall be only in the amount found necessary to assure the appearance of the defendant. Conditions of release, other than monetary conditions, may be imposed for the purpose of protecting members of the community from serious bodily harm or preventing intimidation of witnesses.” Those other conditions of release could be GPS monitoring, increased supervision and other conditions that don’t involve paying money.

Former prosecutor and a clinical professor at UW-Madison Law School Lanny Glinberg says the fact that Brooks was not held on higher bail in Milwaukee doesn’t stem from a lack of authority to detain him. Rather, it was “a discretionary decision made by a judge and apparently at the recommendation of the prosecutor that his bail would be low.” Glinberg explains that, “with the system and statutory and constitutional structure that we have right now, there’s no lack of authority to impose higher bail in a case like that. The problem is that no release decision is without risk. But we can’t lock up pending trial every potentially risky individual. We wouldn’t let anybody out if we were looking for zero risk. And we need to keep that in mind.”

Amending the state Constitution

Rep. Duchow is seeking to amend the Wisconsin State Constitution to restructure how judges apply bail to individuals with criminal histories. During Brooks’ first appearance in court, prosecutors recounted his history with the criminal justice system dating back to 2000. Duchow’s proposed amendment would compel judges to consider the dangerousness or potential violence of an individual when determining cash bail.

“Wisconsin continues to see examples of people with extensive criminal histories committing crimes while out on bail,” Duchow said in a statement announcing her proposed joint resolution. “Most recently was the tragic and horrific attack on the Waukesha Christmas Parade by an individual with a long history of violent crimes. Allowing judges to consider the safety of the community, seriousness of offense, and previous record of the offender provides another tool to protect both victims and the community while the judicial process plays out.”

But Vishny stresses that increasing bail widens the distance between the haves and the have-nots in an already inequitable criminal justice system. “When people stay in jail for crimes they lose their jobs, they lose their housing, they may lose public assistance, they may lose contact with their children, there are all kinds of ill effects for people who are never going to be necessarily incarcerated on that crime,” argues Vishny. “Therefore, it is a mistake to change the bail system because of this. There’s no such thing as a perfect system. There will probably always be some individual, somewhere, at some point, who’s released on bail and commits a horrible crime like what occurred in this case. But there are thousands of people who should be released, and we could have a safer society because they are released. Because they do see their children, they do keep their housing, they do keep their jobs.”

Judges already have the power to assess a person’s risk to the community, and apply additional conditions for release based on that risk. “In Wisconsin we already have, under state law, the ability of the judge to detain, without bail, someone who, for example, allegedly committed murder or a serious sexual assault,” says Meyn. “It doesn’t have to be cash bail, it’s just pretrial detention. You ain’t getting out. It’s already there.”

Judges have discretion when it comes to bail, too. “Those levers are all there for judges and prosecutors,” Meyn says. “And the fact that legislators now are making a big deal about how we have to add in danger to society as a particular element of the bail consideration, that’s a really bad idea. If you think it’s hard for judges to make tough decisions right now, it’s going to be impossible if that’s in there. Because then we hold the judge completely responsible. The judges already take danger to society into account, but have to do it other ways through the bail statute.”

Criticism of Chisholm

Chisholm has become a target for criticism because of Brooks’ $1,000 bail. The chain of decisions made prior to Brooks’ release was put under the microscope during a Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors committee meeting on Dec. 2. The Judiciary, Safety, and General Services Committee brought together county supervisors, the district attorney and other members of the criminal justice system. Committee members, including Supvs. Ryan Clancy, Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, and Pam Logsdon, were personally impacted by the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy.

“Anything I say right now has to be remembered in the context that Mr. Brooks is presumed innocent until the cases are adjudicated,” Chisholm said to the supervisors. “Prosecutors are obligated to say that in any case where a charge has been issued. And it speaks to the issue of bail as well and that is that the state ultimately bears the obligation to prove every case with evidence that supports a finding of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The state’s main power, as it were, is to issue a charge. We do not ultimately decide the outcome of that charge.” In a prior weapons related charge, Brooks had been held on $10,000 bail, Chisholm notes.

The strain the pandemic dealt on the system also came into play. “What occurred is that this defendant was held on bail, and then trial dates were set,” Chisholm explained. “He had a trial date set that we could not provide a court trial for him, or a jury trial for him on that date.” Because Brooks couldn’t be provided a speedy trial, his custody status needed to be reviewed. “That’s what occurred, the bail was reduced in that case. Some time later, Mr. Brooks is arrested again for a very serious domestic violence offense.” At that point, the district attorney’s office needed to get involved again.

However, Chisholm said that the assistant district attorney in this case was one of the office’s two dedicated felony domestic violence prosecutors. With just two and a half years of experience, “she’s done over 20 jury trials,” says Chisholm. The day Brooks’ case went to her desk, she was in the middle of a multi-day jury trial. “In addition to having almost two dozen felony-level cases to review,” Chisholm explains, giving context for Brooks’ release. “This case was one of those cases she was reviewing in that context.” Additionally, a risk assessment done on Brooks wasn’t uploaded to the office’s system, so the assistant district attorney didn’t have access to it. “Given the volume of cases she was dealing with, given her jury trial that she was working on, she simply charged the case. She looked at the previous bail, saw that it was $500 and she doubled it. That’s it, that’s a mistake. It’s human error. And it just set in motion a chain of events that resulted in a tragedy.”

Since taking office in 2007, Chisholm has advocated for reforms to the criminal justice system, including the cash bail system, and support for community-based programs.

An online dashboard created by the Milwaukee County District Attorney to track key data indicators shows recent improvements in certain areas. In June 2020, it took victim advocates an average of two days to contact the victim following a case being referred, compared to an average of 54 days in 2017. The number of felony and misdemeanor cases charged have dropped. The DA’s office’s online dashboard states, “A decision to reject a case before filing means less people unnecessarily enter in the justice system only to have their case dismissed early.” Additionally, between 2015 and 2020, the number of cases with a jail sentence decreased from 2,661 to 596. That’s a 77.6% decline.

This is all occurring against the backdrop of an already heavily incarcerated city. The 53206 area code in Milwaukee is America’s most incarcerated zip code. One out of every 36 African American residents in Wisconsin are incarcerated and nearly 70% of the Black population in Wisconsin resides in Milwaukee County. Wisconsin’s rate of incarceration for African Americans, in fact, is the highest in the nation. Many facilities, whether county jails, the state-controlled Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility or numerous prisons peppered across the state are overcrowded and deteriorating.

Many of the supervisors appeared to be aware of the logistical issues stemming from mass incarceration. Whereas Ortiz-Velez questioned Chisholm on the district attorney’s office’s chronic staffing needs and inability to pay prosecutors competitive wages, Clancy wondered what community-based alternatives to incarceration could be supported.

Nevertheless, tougher on crime rhetoric also made its way into the Milwaukee County committee meeting. Logsdon echoed these calls during the Dec. 2 meeting, pleading with the district attorney to keep more people incarcerated. “As you’re aware I support and respect our police officers and our sheriff department,” said Logsdon, going on to claim “our laws have been a lot lax the last couple of years. So you have to do something pretty bad now to be put in jail, or the House of Correction because of the overcrowding.” Calling jail a revolving door Logsdon asserted, “they’re getting out too easy. And with this said, this is why we’ve seen more violence. To me this is violence.”

Audibly choking back tears Lodgson declared, “it’s because our laws are getting lax. And they know it, and they’re abusing it. We need to be tough, that’s what law enforcement is. It’s to keep up the law.” Speaking through an increasingly tearful and shaky voice Logsdon added, “marijuana is illegal in Wisconsin, and you refuse to prosecute these people. And people are seeing this, and that’s why we’re having more and more violence in our county. I beg you to address this. Get a task force from another state, another municipality. We need to be aggressive, this has to stop.”

In Milwaukee, reports of instances of stop and frisk of Black residents are an estimated rate of 9.5 times higher than for white residents. The rate of “field interviews” is also 5.71 times higher for Black residents. Non-violent drug arrest rates for Black Americans remain disproportionate despite the rates of drug use being the same as whites. “If they really want to be tough on crime, as people supposedly want, annual cases against white people in Milwaukee County would increase from 8,000 to 29,000 cases,” says Meyn. “Does that look like what people want?” In that light, Meyn questions whether the current policies in Milwaukee’s criminal justice system are progressive at all.

“The bail system that we have right now does lock a lot of people up,” Glinberg tells Wisconsin Examiner. “And an important part of reform, to reduce the problem of mass incarceration, which as we all know disproportionately falls on the poor and people of color, we’re going to need to reduce our reliance on cash bail. And there have been some efforts to make reform in that direction. And I hope that this really ugly crime, and ugly set of facts, and unfortunate fact that Brooks was already out on a relatively low cash bail, doesn’t undermine the really necessary reform that we need to make to further reduce our reliance on cash bail. It will never be a zero-risk proposition to let people out but we have a system where people in this country enjoy a presumption of innocence. And where there’s a presumption of release on cash bond, and that cash bail is supposed to be imposed to ensure appearance and, again, I hope we can continue to make the reforms that will improve that system. Because the current cash bail system, in fact, locks up a lot of people and contributes to the problem of mass incarceration.”

Vishny hopes that people take a step back after the tragedy and resist the push for more punitive policies. “There has been, over District Attorney Chisholm’s tenure, progressive reforms,” says Vishny. “It’s happened slowly, and a lot more needs to occur. But those progressive reforms are not what’s responsible for this horrible tragedy in Waukesha. In fact, Milwaukee still sends a very large number of Black people to the Wisconsin state prison system and is a contributor to over-incarceration and mass incarceration. And there are a lot more reforms that need to occur.” Vishny calls the attacks on Chisholm “political opportunism on the part of members of the state Legislature to try and go after the Milwaukee district attorney’s office.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.