By Audra R. Attaway. Audra is an intern with the ACLU of Wisconsin.
“Don’t Run.” “Hold your hands still where they can be seen.” “Say, ‘Yes Sir’, and ‘No Sir.’ ‘Be respectful.” “Don’t loiter in big groups.” “If you’re in the car, take the keys out of the ignition.”
This is the reality of ‘The Talk’, a widely known code of conduct regarding police interactions that many Black and Latinx children and young teenagers receive before they’re allowed to go out into the world. Older family members share their knowledge and provide insight into how they’ve navigated a world where they’re more likely to be stopped, frisked, and searched while walking to the corner store than a white college student walking to 7-Eleven.
The Milwaukee Police Department has had a pervasive problem with their treatment of Black and Latinx residents.
The ACLU of Wisconsin is committed to our work on racial justice and ending the systemic racism embedded in our police departments. In 2018, we reached a settlement agreement in Collins et al. v. The City of Milwaukee, taking aim at the city’s widespread and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk programs. For almost a decade, the Milwaukee Police Department pursued an aggressive and unconstitutional policing strategy promoting large numbers of stops and frisks citywide. Between 2007 and 2015, the department almost tripled their traffic and pedestrian stops, from around 66,000 to around 196,000, following the launch of the program in 2008.
This settlement, which in part banned the practice of discriminatory and unwarranted stops and frisks, has been woefully and egregiously ignored. During the first half of 2020, officers did not have reasonable suspicion to perform a frisk 91.4% of the time. In the latter half of the year, it was 86.8%. This is happening in spite of the fact that a frisk can only be performed for purposes of protection, and must be based on reasonable suspicion that a person is armed and dangerous, it cannot be performed due to a suspicion that someone may have drugs on their person.
The numbers show that MPD is far from compliance in regards to the settlement agreement in their disparities. Sixty percent of stops and 86% of those frisked were Black community members. Milwaukee officers continuously and wrongly use dubious justifications for stopping and frisking citizens that do not adequately demonstrate that an individual was armed and dangerous, and instead wrongly and unconstitutionally use the suspicion of the presence of drugs or drug paraphernalia to justify frisks.
Individuals identifying as a racial or ethnic minority are more often and more heavily policed, and are often treated worse than their white counterparts. Black and Latinx residents are more likely to be victims of repeated stops, searches, frisks, and questioning on the presumption of criminality. Black and Latinx neighborhoods and communities are more often stereotyped by police departments as being uncooperative and hostile, regardless of the behavior of the individuals. These neighborhoods are overpoliced and often become sites of police misconduct, including unwarranted stops, verbal abuse and excessive force. We know that being Black and Brown and having interactions with police can lead to trauma, serious harm, and in the most grievous instances, death.
How do we as a community ensure that those that are most at risk are protected?
Know your rights while interacting with the police. If you’ve been stopped by the police you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer questions about where you are going, where you’re coming from or where you live. You do not have to answer questions related to where you were born or your U.S. citizenship status. There is no such thing as a consensual frisk, a search is more than a frisk, you are not obligated to consent to a search of your person or your vehicle. Refusing consent may not prevent the officer from carrying out the search against your will but an objection may help your rights in any later legal proceedings.
If you are being arrested or detained, vocalize your wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not say anything further, sign any documents or make decisions without a lawyer present. You have the right to make a local phone call, and officers may not listen to a phone call to your lawyer.
If you believe your rights have been violated write down everything you remember, including officers’ badge numbers, the agency the officers were part of, the setting in which the arrest or detainment occured, and any witness information. File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division, or civilian complaint board. In most cases complaints can be filed anonymously.
If you see someone interacting with the police, film from a safe distance. The availability of recorded evidence has become a critical piece in the checks and balances of police accountability. Taking video and photos of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right, this includes police and other officials carrying out their duties.
It is not an accident that some of the most high profile cases of police misconduct and overstep have involved video and photographic evidence.
The Milwaukee Police Department needs to be held accountable for its egregious actions and disregard for residents’ constitutional rights.
If you are or someone you know has been stopped on or after January 1, 2020, but not arrested or ticketed by the Milwaukee Police Department, please email email@example.com.