One of the overarching demands of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests is for the local government to transfer money from law enforcement to programs that support communities. This demand aims to reduce the damage done to communities – especially communities of color – by excessive police surveillance, as well as targeting the root causes of crime. In Milwaukee, this demand was strongly raised by the African-American Roundtable across the FreeMKE Campaign.
With the Joint Council due to consider the 2022 City of Milwaukee Budget on Friday, and the Milwaukee County Supervisory Board set to pass the County Budget on Monday, now is the time to discuss local budget priorities and our priorities. moral. Collectively, we must recognize that policing is not the key to reducing crime and that people of color and other groups are targeted, harassed and even murdered by the police. The Milwaukee Common Council is expected to significantly cut the budget for the Milwaukee Police Department, and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors is expected to do the same for the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office. The savings created by these police cuts should be spent on community investments, such as the city ââbudget requests issued by LiberateMKE and the county budget demands by Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America and others.
Interestingly, this request is not new at all. Nearly a century ago, the Sewer Socialists of Milwaukee – socialist politicians who fought for the improvement of municipal infrastructure and services in Milwaukee from the turn of the 20th century to 1960 – worked to accomplish their own version of the police funding. As a socialist leader and advocate for police funding, I researched sewer socialists and found that some of them had a message for today.
In 1912, Socialist City Treasurer Charles B. Whitnall, who would later become Milwaukee County Parks Commissioner and help develop the county park system we enjoy today, recommended for funding the police and funding community programs instead. Whitnall won the post with Milwaukee’s first socialist mayor, Emil Seidel, during the Socialist electoral landslide of 1910. Discussing how to solve the city’s problems, Whitnall wrote: â. . . there is no point in passing restraining orders unless we have provided a means to do good. To give citizens a means of “right”, he argues, we must establish “”. . . the required number of neighborhood centers for public recreation and education. . .[t]it is the only way to reduce the vice. . . He directly identifies where the money for “vice reduction” should be drawn: the police. He says, “[t]The money we spend on police sheriffs, probation officers, wardens, courts, etc., if properly invested, would prevent a lot of our crimes.
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Later, Socialist Mayor Daniel Hoan also fought for a wise investment of taxpayer money by choosing to spend money on crime prevention rather than the police. In Hoan’s book Municipal Government: Taking Stock of the Milwaukee Experience, published in 1936 to mark Hoan’s 20th birthday as mayor of Milwaukee, it chronicles a political fight over the Milwaukee Police Department’s request for more officers.
In chapter 20 of the book Hoan recalled that â[s]a few years ago, following the launch of our comprehensive recreation program, our chief of police approached me asking for an additional 150 patrollers. The police chief argued in Hoan that Milwaukee had statistically fewer police officers than comparable cities. While Hoan supported an additional 50 officers to counter the increasing traffic risks, he defended himself from budgeting more than that simply because it was requested or due to a potential crime wave. Hoan said “if he [the police chief] didn’t get what he wanted and a wave of crime hit the city, so the mayor would be the one to blame.
In other words, it was not popular policy to resist this demand, but it turned out to be common sense. When the Common Council ignored “common sense” and allocated more police officers, Hoan vetoed the amendment, standing up to the police. Hoan said: “[w]What was the result ? The year has unfolded. The wave of alleged crimes that troubled other cities did not materialize here.
Not only did the “common sense” of reducing the demand for police funding work, it helped prevent a wave of crime due to the way it invested city money in programs other than the police. In the same chapter, Hoan goes on to describe how the recreation and community programs in Milwaukee started by the socialists created a better city with less crime. Speaking proudly of Milwaukee’s smallest per capita police budget compared to other cities, Hoan said “[t]he numbers speak for themselves. They partly answer the question of whether it is cost effective to provide healthy recreation for children and adults. This investment in the community “not only pays dividends in dollars and cents, but it pays more dividends in the development of character, righteousness and good citizenship.”
My message to town council and county council today: listen to the “common sense” of the sewer socialists and cut the budgets of the police department and the sheriff’s office. History will show that you did the right thing.