Chris Ott, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, issued the following testimony at the Milwaukee Public Safety and Health Committee on Monday, July 27, 2020:
"I’m Chris Ott, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. Thank you for inviting us to participate today. Our counterparts in Oregon have worked to respond to the situation in Portland, and the ACLU of Wisconsin strongly objects to President Trump’s largely unilateral plan to flood Milwaukee with federal law enforcement.
We have seen the repeated, excessive use of force by federal agents in Portland. They have operated so violently and recklessly that local authorities have actually demanded their removal. Against that backdrop, plans to send similar forces to Milwaukee don’t make any sense. We don’t need a repeat of this failed, chaotic approach in Wisconsin.
In light of the impending DNC in Milwaukee, we are even more concerned that these officers will be used to aggressively disband peaceful protests.
When officers – federal, state or local - move through a neighborhood in armored vehicles, meeting peaceful protesters with rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and other munitions, they intensify tensions when their job is to defuse them. Our streets aren’t warzones, and protesters are not enemy combatants—yet too often we see communities, particularly those where Black and Brown people live, treated as if they were. We have also seen these law enforcement officers target journalists and legal observers as they document these incidents, as well as street medics who are there to help protestors.
Even if the federal agents will actually limit themselves to addressing crime – which is an assertion about which we have serious questions – our city does not need more police officers. As D.A. Chisholm noted, many recent homicides result from domestic violence, and swarming the streets with more police will not prevent this. More importantly, pouring more police onto the streets just continues decades of failed crime-reduction policies.
We want to remind city officials that regardless of the presence of federal officers, they have a legal obligation to comply with the requirements of our Stop and Frisk settlement. This means that police can’t just stop people on the street without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and it means that they cannot profile Black and Brown members of our community.
It also means that the Milwaukee Police Department – and the City as a whole – has an obligation to get feedback from Milwaukee residents about their needs and concerns. And we already know that what our community needs, and demands, are instead more services to prevent violence, and to attack the root causes of crime – poverty, joblessness, a lack of health care and housing and more – problems which the Covid-19 pandemic has made even more urgent.
The President’s plan poses a serious risk of causing violence and harm. We have heard and appreciate the voices of other Wisconsin residents as well some of our elected officials who have joined the ACLU in saying: stay away."