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Members Of Milwaukee's Black Community Share Priorities For City Budget

Maayan Silver
Devin Anderson, lead organizer for the African American Roundtable, stands before a group of supporters at a press conference Monday September 23, 2019 in Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett outlined how he'd like to see millions of dollars of city taxpayer money be spent during his budget address today. But Barrett isn’t the only person with ideas. The African American Roundtable and 45 community partners surveyed more than 1000 community members to find out what their priorities are for the 2020 budget.

Just over three months ago, the Roundtable — a coalition led by and serving the African American community in Milwaukee — launched a campaign called LiberateMKE.

The purpose of the campaign is to encourage elected city leaders to create a budget that reflects the community’s priorities.

The Roundtable members knocked on doors, went to events like Juneteenth and back to school fairs, and conducted an online survey — hearing from over 1100 people across the city.

Devin Anderson is lead organizer for the African American Roundtable.

"We found three things that residents really wanted more money invested into," he says. "First, community-based violence prevention efforts that do not involve law enforcement."

The LiberateMKE campaign encourages the city to divest $25 million dollars from the Milwaukee Police Department and invest that money into community programs that advance safety and prevention.

Anderson says that means the city should not only spend more on programs that are already working in the city — like violence interrupter programs, but also build up services that address mental health and trauma needs

The second priority, he says, has to do with youth —people want more money invested in youth programs and jobs for people ages 16-24. "The last thing is affordable, quality housing, the bedrock that provides stability to families, to young people, to children," Anderson says.

Anderson says a tight budget is no excuse not to address these needs.

Rick Banks, political director for BLOC, or Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, supports the findings, including the need for affordable housing.

"For too long our communities have had to wait for wealthy developers to repair existing properties and construct new ones when we’ve had the capacity to do so on our own," he details. "We call on the city to invest millions into home repair grants and innovative solutions such as community land trust, cooperative housing and anti-displacement protections for our seniors and residents who are not as well off."

Banks says that communities have repeatedly stressed that they want safety, but that a police officer on every corner is not the solution: "We must invest in prevention to prevent the need for police intervention in the first place. That is why we’re calling for a multi-million dollar investment into the Office of Violence Prevention and similar programs that invest funds into prevention and mental health so that our communities have the services that they need and that our communities are no longer vastly incarcerated and over-imprisoned."

Banks says, ultimately, budgets are "moral documents" that reveal the values of city leaders.

"The city seriously needs to ask itself what does it value more: Mass incarceration or investment in community? A few hundred police officers or the hundreds of thousands of people who call this city home?" he asks.

Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton issued a statement. He says that the ideas put forward by the African American Roundtable will enrich budget deliberations.

He wrote, “As a council, we have encouraged community participation to help inform the process. I look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure that this budget reflects the needs and priorities of residents across the city.” 

A spokeswoman for Mayor Tom Barrett said he would be available for reaction to the survey after his budget address Tuesday — but not within the deadline for this story.

Maayan Silver is a WUWM news reporter.
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