Board Chair Nicholson pushing controversial People’s Justice Guarantee

By Lexi Dittrich for the MacIver Institute

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors took up a resolution last month recommending that Congress pass a long list of policing and criminal justice reforms. Some of those proposals include decriminalizing illegal immigration, limiting the crimes that an illegal immigrant can be deported for, providing reparations to African Americans, placing a permanent ban on assault weapons, legalizing prostitution, legalizing marajuana, allowing federal funds to pay for abortions by repealing the Hyde Amendment, investing $1 trillion in low-income housing subsidies, instituting medicare for all, and funding the Green New Deal.

The resolution was taken up by the Board on June 25 after unanimously clearing the County Board’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee. The resolution calls on Congress to pass The People’s Justice Guarantee, a bill by freshman Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts). Instead of “incarceration and policing,” the People’s Justice Guarantee wants to replace such practices with “community-based violence interruption programs,” a tactic advocated for by radical police reformists like Madison’s own Freedom Inc.

The Milwaukee County Board resolution calls the People’s Justice Guarantee a solution to the “damage wrought by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and the punitive, expensive, violent, and racist systems of criminalization.” 

The Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, or the 1994 Crime Bill, was created in response to a surge of violent crime in the 1980s. The bill created the “three-strikes” policy that requires a mandatory life sentence for felons who have committed three separate felony offenses. It also requires a mandatory minimum sentence for certain crimes, permits the death penalty for 60 offenses, requires mandatory life sentencing for serious drug crimes, allows juveniles aged 13 or older to be charged as adults for certain severe crimes, and banned the manufacturing and sale of assault-style firearms until 2004.

The Crime Bill also authorized over $30 billion toward criminal justice spending, including $9.7 billion for constructing prisons, $8.8 billion for hiring 100,000 more police officers, and $7.1 billion in crime prevention initiatives.

The legislation was spearheaded by 2020 Presidential candidate Joe Biden while he was head of the Senate Judicial Committee. It was signed into law by Former President Bill Clinton.

Milwaukee County’s resolution points to the 1994 Crime Bill as a primary cause of mass incarceration in the country. “The United States has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, and the criminal justice system costs taxpayers $260 billion a year” the County Board resolution says. 

Instead, the People’s Justice Guarantee outlines “a large-scale decarceration effort to reshape the American legal system.”

“The American legal system duplicates and maintains systems of oppression that can be traced back to slavery,” the People’s Justice Guarantee says, “and as a result disproportionately harms Black communities throughout the United States.” 

The People’s Justice Guarantee demands an indeterminate appropriation for nationwide reparations, enough to guarantee “debt free college, homeownership assistance, guaranteed health care, and business financing support” for African Americans.

How much exactly would that cost? Who would receive compensation? Reparations scholar and Duke University economist William A. Darity Jr. measures based on Gen. William Sherman’s 1865 post-emancipation promise of 40 acres of land for each of the 40,000 slaves who were freed. Assuming there are 30 million descendants of freed slaves in the United States today, Darity estimates reparations would cost the American taxpayer $2.6 trillion, or $80,000 to each qualifying African-American. 

BET founder Robert Johnson proposes $14 trillion for reparations, about $350,000 over 30 years to each African-American descendant of a freed slave. “Let’s assume there are 170 million people who pay taxes in the U.S. If you break it down by days, it comes out to American taxpayers paying about $8 a day in reparations.” Johnson proposes this be administered through a progressive wealth tax.

Congresswoman Pressley’s bill would spend more taxpayer money on top of that. The bill would provide $1 trillion in funding for social housing expansion, rent payment assistance, local rent control, a $15 minimum wage, free public transportation, and a federal job position for “every person who wants one.” 

The People’s Justice Guarantee calls for another kind of justice, too, environmental justice. This would be achieved through promoting, implementing, and funding the Green New Deal.

The list doesn’t end there. The federal bill claims its primary purpose is to “repair” the broken legal system. To start that process, the bill includes proposals to:

  • Enact prison reforms like:
    • Ending mandatory minimum sentencing
    • Providing “hormonal treatment and gender-affirming procedures, and full reproductive and gynecological services” in prisons
    • Allowing transgender people to choose to be housed in whichever prison conforms to their gender identity
    • Banning cash bail
    • Legalizing voting for the incarcerated
    • Abolishing juvenile detention centers and put youth convicts into community or home rehab programs
  • Dismantle the current immigration system by:
    • Decriminalizing illegal immigration
    • Limiting deportation on the grounds of an immigrant’s conduct or criminal conviction 
    • “Prohibiting State and local law enforcement agencies from carrying out Federal immigration enforcement activities” and “ensuring that localities are never required to share information with Federal immigration en- forcement agencies”
  • Reform criminal law by:
    • “Legalizing marijuana and overdose prevention sites, declining to criminally prosecute low-level offenses such as loitering and theft of necessity goods, and expunging the records of individuals for all drug-related offenses” and most offenses that have caused no or intended to cause no harm
    • Deferring to restorative justice over prison sentences 
    • Banning kids under 18 years old from being tried in adult court
  • Reform the police system in the US by: 
    • Getting rid of police and SROs in schools 

Milwaukee County Supervisor Patti Logsdon expressed concern with the bill’s regulation of firearms. The bill would pass “a permanent ban on assault-type weapons,” institute a nationwide gun buyback program, and limit production and sales of firearms. 

“We wanna be careful here that we don’t take away anybody’s rights,” Supervisor Logsdon said to the County Board. “We do not want to take away any rights [that] citizens of the United States have existing.”

Freshman Supervisor Shawn Rolland had similar concerns about limiting freedoms. Rolland and Logsdon requested that the resolution be sent back to committee. Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson asked board members to reject their motion. 

“There is a growing consensus that past efforts supposedly aimed at reducing violent crime in this country were really about the continued repression and subjugation of black and brown people,” Nicholson wrote in a press release by the Center for Popular Democracy. “Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s bill, along with the one I released in my capacity as County Board Supervisor, shows that solutions for our communities require a strategy where elected leaders follow the expertise of those directly impacted.”

The motion to return the resolution back to committee failed, 8-10. It was instead tabled, 11-7, until the next board meeting. The County Board will take up the resolution again when they meet on July 23, 2020 at 9:00 am. Supervisors Logsdon and Rolland are working to draft amendments to the resolution before the July meeting.

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy is a Wisconsin-based think tank that promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government. Reposted with permission.