Freedom To Thrive: Reprioritizing Milwaukee's Budget for Black and Brown Lives


An Open Letter To: Mayor Tom Barrett, Common Council Members, and Fire and Police Commission Members, and residents of the city of Milwaukee.

With the proposed City Budget being released, it is alarming that yet again we see the Milwaukee Police Department eating up nearly half of our General-Purpose Budget. While our city continues to heal from the trauma inflicted upon it by the misconduct of a few officers, little has been done structurally to address the root needs of the community and negative social determinants of health. Over investing in law enforcement with nearly 50% of the City’s general-purpose budget while other key areas like Public Health, Neighborhood Services, & Libraries only receive a combined 8% is a disservice to our community.

Milwaukee Police Department has a long history of excessive force towards communities of color, with little to no action plan to correct this. MPD’s excessive force has cost our city more than 20 million dollars since 2015, and is set to hit almost 30 million after the latest ACLU Stop and Frisk lawsuit is settled.

According to Milwaukee currently has an officer to 10,000 resident ratio of 31.5, well above the 24.3 average & median of 20.7 for fellow cities over 500,000 residents. And the 2019 Proposed Budget is set to increase the number of police if passed as is, “The 2019 proposed budget includes funding for an average of 1,871 sworn officers; an increase of ten from the average funded strength in 2018. The proposed budget includes funding to hire a total of 100 new police officer recruits through two recruit classes.”

This over-policing is counterproductive. It redirects taxpayer resources desperately needed in poor communities to perpetuate a criminal justice pipeline that systemically incarcerates Milwaukee communities of color, creating a birth to prison pipeline for youth of color in our city. This resource pipeline must be dismantled, and replaced with an agenda that is intersectional, fully funded, and transformative to give communities of color the opportunity to thrive in Milwaukee.

We must ask ourselves a crucial question regarding our city budget. “What are our values, and does this budget match them”? 

Milwaukee Police Department requested $295,739,180 for their 2019 Budget, but Mayor Tom Barrett came back and put $299,584,671 (A $3.8 million increase) in the proposed budget. While Mayor Barrett seemingly values Milwaukee Police Department enough to add 10 new officers and a recruiting class of 100 new police officers in this budget, we are wondering where is money for our city’s lead problem. In this same budget the Mayor has proposed cutting the Neighborhood Services budget $300,000 while only adding just two (2) positions to conduct more lead abatement inspections.

This once again highlights the divestment in social programs, public welfare and infrastructure, and government services in Milwaukee. This is exactly why Milwaukee has been named the worst metro in the Country to raise a Black child due in large of statistics like

  • Black infants die before their first birthday at more than twice the rate of white infants

  • Only 24 percent of Black children in Milwaukee grow up in economically-secure households compared to 72 percent of white children

  • Black youth in Milwaukee County were more than twice as likely to be arrested than white youth

  • In Milwaukee Public Schools 84.6% of referrals to law enforcement were Black students

  • Milwaukee had the most cases in the nation of gonorrhea, an STD.

  • K-12 schools in Wisconsin suspend black high school students at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country and has the second-highest disparity in suspension rates between white and black students

  • Black students have enrolled in college at a rate 25 percent lower than their white classmates

  • The life expectancy for Black residents in Wisconsin, is 6 years lower than White residents

These problems are not unsolvable, Milwaukee is rich is youthful talent, homegrown ideas, and people closest to the issue to solve these problems. The disconnect is that where we spend our money is going into the criminalization of these people, thus stifling their growth & development and leaving Milwaukee dry of talent. 

Now is the time to get creative with our solutions, rethink public safety, reimagine our city through a thriving lens for all communities.

Our ask is that City of Milwaukee leadership be bold & brave and commit to reducing Milwaukee Police Department budget by 25% by 2025 and reinvest back into youth job programs, social & public welfare programs, local businesses, infrastructure, government services, and communities of color who have had their taxes used to fund their own oppression for far too long in Milwaukee. 

With just 25% reduction in Milwaukee Police Department Budget, Milwaukee would have nearly $74 million to invest into improving the lives most impacted by over policing.

Just a few ideas of how we can spend $74 million dollars on that would make a difference in Milwaukee

  • Employ 5,000 young people under the Earn and Learn program - $8.5 million

  • Triple the Health Department budget and ear-mark for health equity work to take on critical lead + STD, and other crisis level public health emergencies. Additionally, this would allow expanded work around violence prevention and mediation work our city desperate needs - $28 million

  • Increase tenfold the water filter program - $1.5 million

  • Increase Milwaukee Public Library budget by 50% to help expand hours and staff to increase usage of the literacy, reading, job lab, and other programs - 11.5 million

That is just $49.5 million! There is still $24.5 million after a few of our ideas.

Milwaukee’s future will be shaped by this budget, and youth are watching to see who willing to be a champion for change and who needs an opponent in 2020.

Mayor Tom Barrett’s Proposed 2019 Budget

Mayor Tom Barrett’s Proposed 2019 Budget

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Dakota Hall