The Milwaukee Experiment — One Year Later

D.A. Goes Soft on Crime; Race Riots Ensue

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From the May, 11, 2015 issue of the New Yorker:

The Milwaukee Experiment,” by Jeffrey Toobin

Like many people in the criminal justice system, John Chisholm, the District Attorney in Milwaukee County, has been concerned for a long time about the racial imbalance in American prisons…

Chisholm decided to let independent researchers examine how he used his prosecutorial discretion…

Chisholm took office and commissioned this study in in 2007.

According to the Vera study, prosecutors in Milwaukee declined to prosecute forty-one per cent of whites arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, compared with twenty-seven per cent of blacks; in cases involving prostitution, black female defendants were likelier to be charged than white defendants; in cases that involved resisting or obstructing an officer, most of the defendants charged were black (seventy-seven per cent), male (seventy-nine per cent), and already in custody (eighty per cent of blacks versus sixty-six per cent of whites).

As an aside: No inquiry by Toobin, of course, into any other factors in these cases. Were the Blacks charged with possession of drug paraphernalia more likely, on average, to have a history of prior convictions? After all, repeat offenders are usually dealt with more harshly regardless of race. Were these Black defendants more likely than the Whites to be suspected of more serious additional offenses, with the authorities turning to drug paraphernalia charges because it is an easy way to get bad guys off the street? Al Capone, after all, was put away on tax evasion charges, not a murder rap.

Regarding the prostitution cases: Were Black defendants more likely to be streetwalking and White defendants more likely to be advertising on the internet or working through escort agencies? Residents and the authorities tend to come down harder on streetwalking than on low-key brothel operations because the former is a far larger public nuisance. Resisting arrest charges: Were Black arrestees more likely actually to resist arrest than White arrestees, leading to more Blacks being charged? These are important questions. Naturally, then, Toobin avoids them all, because answering them honestly would blow up his precious Racism thesis.

But back to the story:

Chisholm decided that his office would undertake initiatives to try to send fewer people to prison while maintaining public safety… [he] started saying that prosecutors should also be judged by their success in reducing mass incarceration and achieving racial equality… Chisholm reflects a growing national sentiment that the criminal-justice system has failed African-Americans. Hillary Clinton gave a speech at Columbia University [in May 2015], in which she called for a national rethinking of the criminal-justice system, and suggested, among other things, putting body cameras on police officers…

“In those [cases] that were seen as minor,” [Chisholm said,] “we started to ask, ‘Why are we charging these people with crimes at all?'” … “The whole program is designed to reduce the number of people we are putting in jail or prison, but to do it in a smart, accountable way,” [said] Jeffrey Altenburg, a deputy district attorney, who oversees the early-intervention program… On [Chisholm’s] watch, the over-all number of misdemeanor prosecutions in the county has dropped from nine thousand to fifty-two hundred.

So the good citizens of Milwaukee elected a bleeding heart liberal Democrat as their district attorney, and he decides that a soft-on-crime approach is just what the doctor ordered. He promises to preserve public safety as well as promote racial equality in imprisonment, and do so by essentially ignoring low-level public order offenses.

He spent the better part of a decade hamstringing the forces of law and order; I wonder how this story ends… Kumbaya, or Race War?

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Drumroll, please…

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Milwaukee Riots Aug 2016
Milwaukee: August 14, 2016

Race War it is! Was there really any doubt?

From the August 15, 2016 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

Two shot as protestors clash with police in Milwaukee,” by Jaweed Kaleem and Matt Pearce.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker put the National Guard on alert Sunday as Milwaukee grappled with the shooting of a 23-year-old black man by a police officer, an event that prompted fiery riots…

More than 150 police officers swarmed the small neighborhood of Sherman Park, the site of this weekend’s unrest, as protesters and mourners gathered through the evening Sunday amid the charred facades left from the night before. Firetrucks circled streets, ready to extinguish any new blazes, as protesters rallied in front of a police precinct and next to a park.

Late Sunday night, two people were shot and taken to a hospital as protesters clashed with police. A police officer was taken to the hospital after a rock smashed through the officer’s car window. Another car was set on fire but was later extinguished. Periodic shots were heard until around 1:30 a.m., when police retreated as protesters began to disperse. Police made several arrests…

“I don’t care if he had a gun,” Kimberly Neal, Smith’s sister, said in tears. Police say Smith was armed, wouldn’t let go of his gun after a traffic stop and ran from police.

Sylville K. Smith was the man shot and killed by the police, triggering the riots.

“I don’t care if the guy was black,” shouted a friend of Smith’s, referring to the news that it was a black officer who shot him.

 “Stop burning everything!” Neal shouted. A man responded, “Why?”

 A neighborhood resident asked, “If police say they have a body cam video, why don’t they release it?”…

The Mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barratt, has indicated that a still image pulled from the police body camera footage of this incident “clearly showed” a gun in 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith’s hand as he fled a traffic stop Saturday.

The shooting also came during a particularly violent 24 hours in the city, where five people were killed in three non-officer-involved shootings between Friday night and Saturday morning. Police reported that they were investigating another unrelated homicide Sunday afternoon…

Last month, violence also hit Sherman Park, where 100 residents threw rocks and bottles at police officers, a public bus and the same gas station that burned over the weekend…

Police said gunshots by protesters prevented officials from putting out fires at the businesses on Saturday. One officer was hospitalized after being hit in the head with a brick thrown through the window of a squad car, police said, and three other officers were reported injured. Two police cars were totaled and four were damaged. Six businesses, including the hair salon and an auto parts store, were damaged.

And we constantly hear of the injustices wrought by “food deserts” and the other ills associated with a lack of local shopping and business opportunities in Black neighborhoods. We’re told it’s the rank and irrational Racism of folks like Howard Schultz, CEO of the Starbucks coffee company, that leads to upscale chain businesses declining to open branches in such communities. (My pet theory is that his seemingly-disaterous “race together” campaign was a distraction technique to prevent people from focusing on the fact that his company, more than most, effectively practices strict racial redlining when choosing store locations.) There couldn’t possibly be a rational business reason behind a pattern of retail disinvestment.

Small vigils and protests of dozens of people, many peaceful, continued into the night.

“Many peaceful” is best the L.A. Times could do when describing these gatherings? Not even a “most were peaceful,” or a “nearly all were peaceful?” As we can say is that a mere “many” were peaceful? Clearly, then, the majority of such gatherings were fractious if not violent. It must have been a long, hot night in Milwaukee. You know, most semiautomatic rifles are never used in a violent crime, but the bleeding-heart left still wants to ban them as a menace to society; on that logic I can’t imagine what they’d want to do to gatherings of Black people on restive night, of which only “many” were peaceful.

You know who’s been remarkably silent these past few days? Recently re-elected Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm. He rolled his dice on his little soft-on-crime social experiment in Milwaukee and — with a little help from some friendly Black Lives Matter agitators — came up snake eyes. It’s 1967 all over again, with business burned and looted, firemen pinned down by gunfire unable to fight fires, random White civilians beaten for being White, and general chaos prevailing in certain parts of town.

Who’d have guessed it, though? It’s not like there’s any precedent for what happens in the Black inner city when a well-intentioned but ill-informed liberalization of the criminal laws is attempted, right? It’s not like it’s possible to learn from our experiences a half-century ago, or anything like that. No; that would be Racist.

And so Milwaukee burns.

And lest you think that this is just a local matter: The dunderheaded soft-on-crime policies adopted by Milwaukee D.A. Chisholm are being relentlessly pushed by an unholy alliance of activists on the left as well as the right. Folks as diverse at the Koch Brothers to the NAACP have been pressing for years now to implement similar soft-on-crime policies at the national level. So this feature could soon be coming to a cineplex near you!

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