A Wisconsinites celebrated Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery, Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes released a slate of bills aimed at reforming police practices in the state.
The legislation would create a statewide use of force standards that prioritizes preservation of life, as well as prohibiting practices such as no-knock warrants and chokeholds. Evers and Barnes said in a release that they wanted the Legislature to take action without prompting from the governor’s office.
“[C]alling another special session where legislative leaders come in and gavel in and gavel out risks us losing this incredible moment in history where we can and should be able to work together to get something accomplished,” they said in a statement. “We should not need a special session when people across our state are demanding we take action.”
The legislation also creates a civil cause of action for those who have law enforcement called on them unnecessarily and directs the Department of Justice to release an annual report on the use of force by police officers.
The bills received tepid support from some Republicans. Former police officer Sen. Van Wangaard, R-Racine, said he supports some of the bills introduced, but said others “perpetuate false impressions of law enforcement and jeopardize the safety of officers and the public.”
“At the end of the day, the goal of both law enforcement and the law is the safety of all citizens, regardless of race, creed, color or sex,” he said. “That is the standard I will continue to use to evaluate these bills and all police reform bills going forward.”
Wisconsinites Celebrate Juneteenth
As Wisconsinites celebrated Juneteenth, hundreds gathered at Madison’s Olin Park with the atmosphere of a summer cookout and an organizing goal.
“It's not a party at all, it is a rally,” said organizer N’dia Jones. “That's our number one initiative today: make sure that we get 500 people registered to vote.”
She and co-organizer Teeanna Brisco said it was important to put the day’s celebrations in historical context, as well as the modern backdrop that freedom for many communities in the country is not always an absolute freedom.
“We're still not feeling as free as we celebrate, but we still celebrate because we know what's possible, and we know what's possible with voting and changing the narrative here in Wisconsin and all across the nation,” Jones said.
Friday marked the first time in state history that the Juneteenth flag was flown above the state Capitol. It came per an executive order from Evers, who said “it is as important as ever that we recognize and reflect on our history, celebrate Black resiliency.”