Feb. 2, 2020, 17-year-old Alvin Cole was shot and killed by police officer Joseph Mensah after entering a mall. After the police chief announced he will not face criminal charges, Mensah was hired by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff in January.
As we know, there were the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other Black Americans, all by the hands of the police across a difficult 2020.
In October, as the Black Lives Matter protests grew, Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride imposed a 7 p.m. curfew and called in the National Guard. Now the city faces a lawsuit from more than 50 plaintiffs for the handling of protests.
Imposing a curfew when the city did not face major insurrections like the ones in St. Paul or Kenosha was absolutely unconstitutional. Under the First Amendment, it is a legal right for citizens to have five key freedoms: speech, press, assembly, petition and religion.
The Constitution strictly forbids laws and actions that prevent any of the listed freedoms. Protesting is a freedom of assembly, so forbidding protests violates the Constitution.
Therefore, McBride’s use of curfew and the National Guard to limit citizens’ right to peacefully assemble was unconstitutional. It is worth noting that when McBride violated the First Amendment, no one held him accountable.
Politicians are not the only ones who are not held accountable — police who have committed murders are also not held accountable. Without accountability, where is the so-called law and order or democratic system granted by the Constitution?
Over the past year, police brutality has been a major topic. While some activists and politicians, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., push for defunding the police, there are others who refuse to acknowledge the issue and threaten to reduce local and state funding if police departments are defunded.
What does defunding the police mean? It refers to cutting the budgets for police departments and reinvesting in other social programs such as public education, healthcare, affordable housing or a number of other areas. This is one way to lower the crime rate and police brutality by improving the surroundings of given neighborhoods.
Before the discussion continues, why should we defund the police? Many conflicts show that the police use full force and violence disproportionately against Black people and other people of color compared to white people.
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Just look at recent examples. Jan. 6, the police gave white mobs a free pass to the U.S. Capitol. March 17, the white shooter who killed eight people — six of whom were Asian women — in Atlanta was arrested alive. In comparison, Taylor was killed in her sleep and Floyd was killed while under arrest, even when he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.”
This double-standard policing is why we should defund the police. Officers are supposed to protect citizens and uphold law and order, but instead they abuse their powers and play judge, jury and executioner at the same time.
The idea behind defunding the police is to promote community policing, revitalize social programs and most importantly, decrease the public appearance of police. By decreasing the appearance of the police, it lowers the chance of police brutality and police violence.
Defunding the police could also mean using the CAHOOTS model. CAHOOTS is an acronym for Crisis Assistance Out on the Streets, and it promotes community policing rather than the militarized police we see today.
The model promotes teams of two consisting of a medic — experienced nurses, EMT or paramedics — and a crisis worker who has substantial knowledge and experiences in managing mental health and other crisis situations.
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Having medical personnel could prevent physical injuries and a crisis worker could deconstruct a mental crisis. This is a much better combination than police yelling and pulling their guns out. This would also lower the possibility of making the situation tenser and escalating to create a hostile environment.
As the lawsuit continues in Wauwatosa, the decision of the court will either protect the First Amendment or attack the given civil liberty. Regardless of the court decision, citizens should have other ways such as a vote of no confidence to remove the mayor when he fails to protect citizens’ rights or violates the Bill of Rights.
To ensure accountability, all local governments should follow Madison’s lead, as the city uses a Community Oversight Board for police actions, which is approved by the Madison City Council. This will ensure all police actions are held accountable, reducing the likelihood of police violence.
It is up to all Wisconsinites to unite and create better communities. One way to achieve this is to hold politicians and law enforcement accountable for their unconstitutional actions and to protect our civil liberties.
Ken Wang ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.