Is Anybody Listening?
By Ashley Miner
MILWAUKEE — Cases of police brutality have been sweeping this nation. While many people have seen these stories flash across their TV screens, many others, especially here in Milwaukee, witness it right at home — and the community here is fed up.
On Thursday, January 21, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin joined Department of Justice representatives in a listening session at Milwaukee Public Library’s Centennial Hall for community members to voice their opinions about the Milwaukee Police Department.
Hundreds of Milwaukeeans seized the opportunity, including the families of some of our neighbors who were killed by police or died in their custody — Corey Stingley, Dontre Hamilton and Derek Williams. None of the police involved in the three deaths were indicted.
Community members in attendance let their frustrations be known: too often, police are stopping people without premise; when people have questioned the police, they seldom give an answer; and usually the armed officers default to their battle cry, “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!”
By 15 minutes into the event, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a branch of representatives from the Department of Justice, announced it would launch a collaborative reform initiative to investigate issues within the department including biased policing practices aimed at minority communities, invasive surveillance, inadequate systems to identify officers needing training or discipline, as well as the failure by the department to address the Common Council’s and the general public’s inquiries regarding pedestrian stops and the state civil asset forfeiture program.
With two minutes to speak, many individuals got a chance to share their insights, but some said it was just not enough time. When some questioned the absences of MPD’s Chief Flynn and other officials, COPS explained that it was to ensure an honest and open forum. Others expressed their lack of trust in the Department of Justice because this isn’t the first time they’ve made efforts for reform. One man attributed the lack of confidence in the DOJ to the non indictments of too many officers involved in citizen deaths. Some, however, testified to their appreciation of the police department, with one man thanking them for his life.
This listening session went well beyond its allotted time of two hours, but officials from COPS displayed patience and were sure that everyone who stood in line would be heard and even gave an email address to all those who didn’t choose to stand in line.
COPS also said it would examine policies, procedures and the training candidates undergo to become officers and bring it back to the court of the public, which is the community. It plans to release results in about 8 to 10 months and to follow up with MPD for the following 18 months.