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Evers Calls For Changes As Wisconsin Marks Juneteenth

Susan Bence
A Juneteenth event organizer in Milwaukee on Friday.

Gov. Tony Evers called on the Wisconsin Legislature to pass a package of criminal justice reforms as the state celebrated Juneteenth on Friday.

However, the Democratic governor did not order a special session for the Republican-controlled Legislature to take up the proposals. Assembly Democrats and the Black Legislative Caucus have requested a special session. Evers has the power to call one, as do Republican lawmakers.

The call for reforms came as the Juneteenth holiday was being observed across Wisconsin with marches, calls for action, historic flag raisings and virtual discussions moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

>>Juneteenth: The Day African Americans Truly Gained Freedom

Credit Michelle Maternowski
This year, for the first time, the Juneteenth flag flies at Milwaukee's municipal building.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when news finally reached African Americans in Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves living in Confederate states two years earlier. The day is gaining more attention this year, and greater significance, as COVID-19 disproportionately affects black America and the calls for racial justice intensify following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Evers unveiled his package of proposals in a joint statement with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the state's first black lieutenant governor. They defended not calling a special legislative session, something they've done on other issues such as gun control. Republicans have simply convened and adjourned the sessions without taking action.

“We should not need a special session when people across our state are demanding we take action," Evers and Barnes said.

>>'We Have To Lead With Equity In Every Decision That We Make,' Says Barnes

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had no immediate comment on the Evers proposals.

The measures put forward by Evers and Barnes would:

— Create statewide standards for police use of force, including saying that the primary duty of an officer is to preserve life, and that force should be a last resort.

— Require police officers to annually complete at least eight hours of training on use-of-force options and de-escalation techniques.

— Create a $1 million grant program for community organizations working on ways to mediate conflicts and prevent violence.

— Require law enforcement agencies to ban the use of chokeholds.

— Prohibit no-knock search warrants.

— Require every law enforcement agency to have a use-of-force policy and make it publicly available online.

— Require the state Department of Justice to publish an annual report on use-of-force incidents.

State legislatures across the country have been slow to adopt similar measures.

Evers put forward the proposals as people across the state observed Juneteenth. A Juneteenth flag that Evers ordered be raised for the first time over the Capitol was flying all day. Juneteenth flags were also flying over government buildings in Milwaukee.

Celebrations included a sit-in and solidarity march in Milwaukee and a day-long rally in Madison. Online events included discussions with black doctors about the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and community line dancing lessons.

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