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May 3, 2015

Madison library’s ‘Don’t Shoot’ display troubles officers

"Don't Shoot" (WRN photo)

“Don’t Shoot” (WRN photo)

A new display at the Madison Central Library has drawn negative reactions in the law enforcement community for its portrayal of police officers. The painting, entitled “Don’t Shoot,” depicts three police officers dressed in riot gear, with the central figure pointing a weapon directly at a small black child, who is shown pointing a toy gun. The painting is accompanied by a statement from artist Mike Lroy.

This is reality. While many white people have the privilege of ignoring racial disparities and the killing of unarmed black men, this is a reality for countless black communities around the U.S. including Madison, WI. The aim of my piece “Don’t Shoot” is twofold. For those who have had the privilege of ignoring these gross injustices, I hope to startle, shock, and interrupt your reality. By visually representing the militarization of police through a painting, one cannot keep scrolling through a timeline or find another news station to watch; I will not allow this reality to escape without stirring emotion and provoking reflection. My second aim is to empower black individuals who are feeling angry, forgotten, and demonized by the mainstream narrative. Art is a positive outlet for expression, emotion, and activism. When viewing my piece, I challenge you to reflect on your identity and engage in meaningful, critical, and genuine dialogue with others about the social and political causes that have led to actions like the one depicted in “Don’t Shoot.”

“I can tell you that I’ve spoken with many officers in Madison that find this piece of art offensive, and they think it advances a patently negative law enforcement stereotype at the expense of all the great work and courageous deeds their officers perform every day,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. Palmer’s group and the Madison Professional Police Officers Association issued a joint statement.

Palmer said the groups are not demanding that the display be taken down, but they have a right to voice their reaction. “I think they view display as a slap in the face,” he said, noting that MPD officers are in the downtown library on a daily basis. “We just don’t think it’s constructive to the public dialogue.” By mid-afternoon on Friday, Palmer said the library extended an offer to have a statement installed next to the painting, which the police groups accepted.

“Although law enforcement officers have the utmost respect for the value of artistic expression and free speech, we are deeply offended by the “Don’t Shoot” painting and the message it sends. While we appreciate that the anti-law enforcement sentiment expressed in this piece represents the feelings of some, this “stormtrooper” portrayal of police officers who appear to threaten a small child only serves to advance patently negative law enforcement stereotypes at the expense of the important and selfless jobs that our dedicated officers perform.

“This is a sensitive time in our nation. Strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and the people it serves is a serious matter that will require the balanced collaboration of many diverse views. The biased and hostile message advanced by this painting does little to contribute to that important public dialogue.

“Each day, officers wake up and go to work to protect their communities and its families. There is no greater calling. The men and women of the Madison Police Department are committed to one thing – protecting this city every day they put on the uniform, so that it can be safe for all of us.”

The controversy surrounding “Don’t Shoot” comes in the wake of the March fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white Madison police officer. Madison residents, as well as police and local elected officials, are awaiting the decision from the Dane County District Attorney as to whether officer Matt Kenney will be criminally charged in the death of 19 year-old Tony Robinson. A state Division of Criminal Investigations report on the March 6 shooting was delivered to the DA’s office three weeks ago, and District Attorney Ismael Ozanne has said he will give at least 48 hours of public notice before announcing his decision.

Wisconsin Senate committee will take up prevailing wage repeal

Right-to-work protest at Capitol

Right-to-work protest at Capitol

A Wisconsin state Senate committee is set to act next week on a bill to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, potentially setting the stage for Capitol protests by organized labor.

Labor committee chairman, Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, and a committee vote on Thursday.

“The big thing is, it’s going to diminish quality of work on projects that are done by communities across our state,” said Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). “You’re not going to have the same high standards that folks are used to.”

Under the prevailing wage law, workers on publicly financed projects must be paid the same hourly wage, benefits and overtime as other workers, based on a complex formula and wage surveys around the state.

Republican proponents of repealing the decades-old law claim it would save taxpayers money, pointing to a study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, which found that state and local governments would have saved $200 to $300 million in 2014 by paying “market-based” wages on taxpayer financed construction projects. The study was commissioned by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

While Nass forges ahead  with repeal in his Senate committee, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos indicated this week that he doesn’t have the votes for that, and will try instead for adjustments to the law within the state budget.

“This may just be an Assembly versus Senate Republican kind of thing, where the right hand doesn’t know what the far right hand is doing, or they’re just trying to compete for how far they can go, and take our state over the edge,” Larson said.

Opponents of the measure claim it will decrease wages for all workers. “They’re not hiding the ball anymore,” said Larson. “This is it. They’re trying to reduce wages, so I encourage everyone to show up and make sure there voices are heard on this.”

Debate on Republican authored right to work legislation earlier this year saw hundreds of union members and supporters converge on the Capitol for days of protests.

Drug screening for benefits bills get hearings in Madison

Healthy foods (WRN photo)

Healthy foods (WRN photo)

Some public benefits recipients would need to pass drug screenings under terms of bills getting public hearings at the Capitol on Thursday. State Representative Mike Rohrkaste (R-Neenah) would require people receiving food stamps and unemployment benefits – including some job training programs – pass drug screenings.

“These bills require that individuals who are receiving state assistance and unemployment assistance be screened for potential substance abuse,” Rohrkaste said. “That screening can include a drug test in order to keep receiving these benefits.”

“Most employers in Wisconsin require a pre-employment drug test, and far too many times people fail such tests, and are never hired by that particular employer,” said Rohrkaste, whose bills mirror language contained in Governor Scott Walker’s state budget. “I thought the governor’s ideas were good, and I thought it was important to build on those and add a little bit more structure.”

In addition to Rohrkaste’s drug screening bills, a second bill that would impact Wisconsin resident receiving food stamp benefits also received public hearing.

The measure from state Representative Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) would require participants in Wisconsin’s FoodShare program to spend two-thirds of their monthly allotment on nutritional foods. Brooks claimed that’s not always happening now. “I’ve gotten numerous calls, I’ve done interviews with numerous clerks that work at grocery stores, and have heard tons of stories of reported abuses,” Brooks said.

His legislation would also strike items like lobster and crab legs from the list of allowed foods. “My intent is not to stigmatize, is not shame people – although that’s been the accusation out there – into not using the program,” Brooks said. “It’s just to better align it with it’s intended purpose to be a supplemental nutritional assistance program.”

“It is seeking to legislate the urban myths in our society,” said state Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee). “It’s the fear that somebody on food stamps is buying steak and lobster and champagne, and it’s just not true.”

All three bills were heard by the Assembly Committee on Public Benefits Reform, established by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos at the start of the legislative session. “We will work to provide fair and helpful programs to Wisconsin citizens in their time of need, and to provide maximum accountability to the taxpayers who provide significant investments in these programs,” said committee chairman, Representative Mark Born. (R-Beaver Dam).

House committee approves Sensenbrenner-authored USA Freedom Act

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI)

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI)

A congressional panel has approved a major intelligence reform bill co-authored by a Wisconsin Republican. The House Judiciary Committee’s 25-2 vote Thursday to approve the USA Freedom Act sets the state for floor debate. Wisconsin GOP Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a co-author the bill and original author of the USA Patriot Act, said the measure ends bulk collection of data, strengthens protections for civil liberties, increases transparency, and prevents government overreach, while also protecting national security.

“The bill ends bulk collection, it ends secret law,” Sensenbrenner said, according to The Hill. “It increases the transparency of our intelligence community and it does all this without compromising national security.”

Congress has until June 1 to reauthorize three expiring portions of the Patriot Act, including authorizing the National Security Agency to collect bulk records on millions of people’s phone calls. The NSA program collects “metadata” — such as the numbers involved in a phone call and when it occurred —  not actual content.

The USA Freedom Act would end the government’s ability to collect those records, and instead force agents to demand specific information from private companies. It would also add some new transparency provisions and place a new expert panel on the shadowy Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Proposal would target firms that outsource Wisconsin jobs

Senator Dave Hansen

Senator Dave Hansen

A Wisconsin state legislator wants to withhold state funding from firms that outsource jobs. State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said it may not be possible to end outsourcing – but it may be possible to prevent subsidies to those that do. He’s proposing legislation that would prohibit companies from applying for or receiving taxpayer assistance for five years if they are found to have outsourced jobs from Wisconsin after receiving state aid.

“We may not be able to stop outsourcing altogether, but we can and should make sure that the hard-earned dollars of Wisconsin taxpayers don’t pay for it.”

Hansen said he decided to introduce the bill after news accounts of Eaton Corporation’s decision to outsource 93 jobs from Watertown – after receiving approximately $370,000 in tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Eaton, an international firm based in Ireland, reported quarterly net income of $466 million.

“They always talk about holding people accountable for welfare fraud, we would like to do the same with businesses that are applying for corporate welfare, and I would say fraudulently accepting money and sending our jobs overseas,” Hansen said.