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ACLU issues stinging criticism of Milwaukee police for aggressive actions toward peaceful protestors

The ACLU of Wisconsin criticized Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales on June 10 for the Milwaukee Police Department’s failure to fulfill its legal obligation to implement community policing measures, as well as for overly aggressive policing tactics in the recent protests.

The organization demanded immediate action be taken to comply with court-ordered reform measures and halt the use of force against demonstrators. In comments submitted to the Fire and Police Commission in advance of the FPC’s review of the Chief’s performance, the ACLU stated that the MPD has fallen short of meeting the requirements of the 2018 Settlement Agreement in the Stop and Frisk case brought against the MPD, the City, and the Fire and Police Commission.

“We are very concerned that the Chief – who is ultimately responsible for ensuring MPD’s compliance with the settlement agreement our clients reached with the city – has largely put the community engagement provisions of the agreement on the back burner. Two years have passed since the settlement was finalized, and reforms meant to strengthen community policing have not even been attempted, much less put into place. Especially in this moment, after the murders of George Floyd and Joel Acevedo have frayed the community’s relationship with law enforcement even further, the least we can expect the MPD – and the City – to do is to be proactive in embracing the reforms they committed to in court” – Karyn Rotker, ACLU of Wisconsin Senior Staff Attorney

For example, the department has yet to issue its required twice-yearly Community Policing Status Report, to inform citizens of how the MPD is engaging in community policing. In addition, the Milwaukee Community Collaborative Committee, which was established to obtain community input on MPD’s policing, has yet to even meet.

The ACLU also objected to the Chief’s response to the wave of protests that have broken out in the wake of the Floyd and Acevedo killings.

“The way in which MPD has reacted to the thousands of grieving and outraged people taking to the streets in protest of Black and Brown people being killed at the hands of police has been callous and counterproductive,” said Molly Collins, Advocacy Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The top priority of the police at this moment should be respecting the rights of protesters and diffusing tension, but on many occasions we have seen officers use excessive force, firing tear glass, shooting rubber bullets and making unlawful and unwarranted arrests. This type of militarized approach only escalates emotionally-charged situations and reinforces the very conduct and culture protesters are demonstrating against.”

The ACLU has joined with groups including the Movement for Black Lives calling for divestment from law enforcement and reinvestment in the Black and Brown communities they unjustly target. Specifically the ACLU is calling for:

  • Prohibiting police from enforcing a range of non-serious offenses, including issuing fines and making arrests for non-dangerous behaviors, thus eliminating many of the unnecessary interactions between the police and community members that have led to so much violence and so many deaths;
  • Reinvesting savings from the current policing budgets into alternatives to policing that will keep local communities safe and help them thrive;
  • Implementing enforceable legal constraints so that there will be only rare instances in which police officers can use force against community members.

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