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Issues Of Racial Disparities & Civil Rights Raised Around Curfew Tickets Given During Last Summer's Protests

Courtesy of Jared Cain
Jared Cain received this citation from the Milwaukee Police Department, alleging he “intentionally violated emergency curfew” in effect in Milwaukee on May 31, 2020. Cain redacted his address on the citation. He was among at least 170 people cited by city police for curfew violations during social justice protests in late May and early June.

Updated Tuesday, June 1 at 2:49 a.m. CDT

During last summer’s protests for racial justice, a number of cities instituted curfews. Even at the time, these curfews were controversial. Critics claimed they were meant to stifle free speech and discourage people from protesting — while proponents and city officials claimed they were meant to keep people safe.

Now, data showing a major racial disparity in who was, or wasn’t, ticketed in Milwaukee is fueling more opposition.

“Black residents make up 39% of Milwaukee’s population but they accounted for 64% of those cited, and then that was followed by white, and Latinx and Asian American recipients,” says Clara Neupert, who wrote about these tickets in a recent article for Wisconsin Watch.

Neupert was not given information about the race of people ticketed in Wauwatosa or Kenosha. Although each of these communities enforced a curfew during unrest, Neupert explains the fines varied widely based on the municipality that issued them.

“In Wauwatosa, curfew forfeitures were at one point $1,321 including like court fees — that was later lowered to, I think, around $200,” she says. “In Milwaukee, we saw curfew tickets around $691, which is almost the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Milwaukee.”

When asked why these fines were so high, Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride said the Wauwatosa city attorney set the amount based on Wisconsin statutes. The fine was lowered to $200 in light of the mayor's request and the city attorney's prosecutorial discretion.

Neupert says not every person ticketed received a ticket on the night of the protest or even had an interaction with the police during the protest. Jared Cain, who Neupert interviewed for her story, got his ticket in the mail. Milwaukee Police cited a livestreamed video on Cain’s Facebook page as the evidence he was breaking the curfew.

Cain was also visited by FBI agents shortly after getting his ticket in the mail and asked about any possible ties to antifa, which despite some claims of being a left-wing terrorist organization has been found to be a number of loosely connected groups who identify with being anti-fascist or anti-fascism. Cain said he had never heard the term before the agents asked him about it.

This ticket was issued from Milwaukee’s fusion center, a collaborative effort between municipal, state and federal law enforcement agencies to increase communication and “improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by analyzing data from a variety of sources,” according to the center’s website. Neupert found that law enforcement was using this effort to monitor social media to find residents breaking the curfew and that Cain was not the only other person to receive a ticket in the mail.

“It did beg the question, what does it mean to be ticketed after the curfew? Because how is that upholding the curfew or encouraging someone to go home?” she asks.

Lawsuits have since been filed in Kenosha and Wauwatosa, some alleging that curfews were used to stop protests and infringe on civil rights. Others have challenged their tickets directly.

“We’ve seen a lot of lawsuits and individually people did go to court,” Neupert says.

One lawyer she spoke with had around 40 clients who received tickets in the City of Milwaukee, all of which were dismissed in court. “I think city officials, in those cases, were dismissing things, I think, to maybe prevent a lawsuit,” she says.

Updated: June 1, 2021 at 11:29 AM CDT
The web copy was updated for clarity regarding location of people issued curfew tickets based on race.
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