By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Parts of the city of Milwaukee are a war zone these days, and it’s clear Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett and the law enforcement vilifiers on the Milwaukee Common Council are doing little to stop the senseless violence.
Last weekend, at least three people were fatally shot and 11 others were injured in the city. Milwaukee’s crime rate is up 45 percent; its homicide rate 8 percentage points higher than this time last year — an historically deadly year for violent crime. As of Tuesday, the city had recorded 80 homicides.
“It is heartbreaking to see further explosions of violence in the City of Milwaukee over the weekend. These instances of violent crime continue to reoccur so frequently that many have become numb to the horrific amount of people who suffer the impacts of the lawless behavior,” said state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo.
The New Berlin Republican is calling on Gov. Tony Evers to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to do what city leaders refuse to do: Commit resources to restore order and safety to Milwaukee neighborhoods.
“The vast majority of citizens living in Milwaukee are peace-loving, law-abiding citizens who deserve better than to live and work in a warzone-like setting,” Sanfelippo said.
He’s hopeful the administration will step up, but he shouldn’t hold his breath.
Asked about Sanfelippo’s request and the out-of-control violence again plaguing Milwaukee, Evers did what he often does: He spun.
“I reject the idea that somehow we can replace mental health services and violence protection services, and all the other things that deal with the cause of that, we just ignore that and bring in the National Guard,” Evers told Fox6 News. “It doesn’t make sense to me, I’m sorry.”
He’s been down this road before.
As the heart of Kenosha’s business districts was smashed and burning at the hands of rioters last August, Evers was slow to send in the National Guard. When he finally did, it was too little and too late, according to Kenosha city officials who begged the governor for help restoring order. Evers, too, played politics, rejecting federal law enforcement assistance from then-President Donald Trump.
Sending in National Guard backup would be uncomfortable for his liberal Milwaukee allies, many of whom have pushed a defund-the-police agenda — if not in words, in deeds.
“What we’re trying to prevent is a spiral so far out of control like we had in Kenosha,” Sanfelippo said. “Milwaukee is a great city. There are so many things to do on the lakefront but we are on the cusp of losing it. People are going to be frightened to death to go downtown.”
Dale Bormann Jr., president of the Milwaukee Police Association, said lawmakers in suburban Milwaukee are right to be worried. If unchecked, the urban violence is coming their way.
He said the criminals are getting bolder as Milwaukee politicians’ war on law enforcement continues.
“It’s crazy and it’s just beginning to get warm out there,” Bormann said, adding that the department is short on officers with a string of significant retirements expected between now and December. “We could lose 300 officers and the Common Council is doing nothing.”
Actually, the council is doing something. It has gone about the business of quietly reducing the city’s police force. The Democrats don’t like to say the word “defunding” anymore. Defunding the police doesn’t have a good ring to it among reasonable people who believe public safety should be a community’s No. 1 concern. But city officials are cutting funding or not filling positions wherever they can.
The irony, of course, is that while car thefts are up 193 percent for the year and neighborhood shootouts are becoming part of the scenery, every alderperson has been issued a personal police radio, Bormann said. They can have immediate contact with the department if they feel threatened or feel they could become victims of crime.
“They’re all nice and safe with their police radios, but average citizens are left high and dry,” the police union president said.
While police are frustrated and morale is at its lowest in memory, lawmakers like Sanfelippo are frustrated, too. Sanfelippo has introduced more than a dozen bills aimed at curbing violent crime, including legislation that would keep repeat offenders off the streets. Another bill would protect victims and witnesses from intimidation, a huge problem in the Milwaukee criminal justice system.
“Unfortunately, many of these necessary changes continue to fall on deaf ears,” the Assemblyman said. “Until we take real action to prioritize the safety of the innocent people in our neighborhoods and begin to address the many fundamental problems in our criminal justice system, we are resigning ourselves and our communities to further never-ending cycles of violence.”