Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers calls the protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota a "watershed moment for the nation" and urges the Republican-controlled state Legislature to pass a bill limiting police use of force. Evers also wants other steps taken to address racial disparities in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, state health officials are concerned about the protests and COVID-19.
Evers has been seeking GOP support for legislation introduced a few months ago by his fellow Democrats. The measure would make law enforcement agencies ensure their use-of-force policies stress the importance of preserving the life of all individuals and that deadly force should only be used “as the last resort."
The governor also says the state and local governments need to deal with higher unemployment and infant mortality rates among African Americans, and lower household income and homeownership rates. Evers says now's the time.
"This is a watershed moment for our nation. One that requires everybody willing to come together,” Evers said Thursday, during a web briefing for reporters.
Evers says he's even trying to arrange a conversation with Republican legislative leaders — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald — to see if it's possible to act on the use of force bill soon, and not wait until state lawmakers reconvene in January.
"We have an opportunity now to fix some wrongs that have been longstanding for decades. The people of Wisconsin have a great interest in having us do that, and we have a bill out there that will deal with one small, but important, issue about use of force,” Evers said.
Evers says he realizes it's an election year, but he contends he and the legislature can still accomplish things.
Vos and Fitzgerald did not reply to WUWM’s request for comment.
Earlier this week, Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he's always open to more discussions to see if the two sides can find bipartisan consensus. But he maintains the police use of force is rare.
Meanwhile, the protests over the death of George Floyd and other African Americans in police custody continue. Dr. Ryan Westergaard, with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, recommends ways for marchers to reduce the risk of COVID-19
"Our response now is to keep everybody safe proactively, which is to give good information on how to keep themselves safe. Things we've said all along, which is wearing masks in public and keeping physical distance," he said.
As the protests continued in the Milwaukee area Thursday night, many people took part without a mask. But a woman, who gave her name as Nancy, did have on a face covering and she kept her distance as she watched a demonstration in Wauwatosa.
"I don't want to be close to a bunch of people because I'm 63 and I'm worried about [COVID-19], " Nancy told WUWM.
On Milwaukee's south side, Kathryn Brostowitz told WUWM's Teran Powell that she has marched but has also taken COVID-19 seriously.
"[The disease] kind of adds to the mood. It was very clear we should not be out there. But we also should be out there for other reasons,” Brostowitz said, referring to her interest in social justice.
Westergaard says it will be a while before contact tracers will be able to determine if any new positive cases of COVID -19 involves people who perhaps were infected at the demonstrations.
He warns that Wisconsin is not done with the coronavirus.
"We are by no means out of the woods. We're pleased the numbers are not higher than they are. But they're at a level where we have to understand where these hot spots are,” Westergaard told reporters. He remains particularly worried about a few communities and "congregate" living situations, like jails and nursing homes.
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