Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
A Waukesha County Republican said that armed troops patrolling the streets of Milwaukee is necessary for residents to feel like they don’t live in a “war-zone-like setting.”
Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R–New Berlin), concerned about recent increases in violent crime in the state’s largest city, said in a news release Tuesday that despite his frequent attempts to introduce solutions he considers sensible — like making it easier to revoke parole or send children to detention facilities — Milwaukee is becoming too dangerous.
Sanfelippo called on Gov. Tony Evers to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to patrol Milwaukee neighborhoods.
“Until we take real action to prioritize the safety of the innocent people in our neighborhoods and begin to address the many fundamental problems in our criminal justice system, we are resigning ourselves and our communities to further never-ending cycles of violence,” he said in a statement.
“Providing public safety is one of the fundamental responsibilities of government. The local elected officials in Milwaukee are failing to live up to this obligation which is why I am calling on Governor Evers to activate the WI National Guard to help restore safety in Milwaukee neighborhoods. The vast majority of citizens living in Milwaukee are peace-loving, law-abiding citizens who deserve better than to live and work in a warzone-like setting.”
Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said in a statement that sending the National Guard into Milwaukee would only serve to worsen relationships between residents and the police.
“I hope that Rep. Sanfelippo is aware that sending the National Guard into our communities — literally imposing an occupying force on our neighborhoods — will do nothing but escalate already tense situations,” Bowen said. “This knee jerk reaction of sending in actual military forces without any training in community relations would make an already bad situation even worse.”
Milwaukee has seen an increase in violent crime over the last year, as has Madison and other large cities across the country — though violent crime rates in the U.S. are still lower than their peak in the early 1990s.
Bowen said he’s glad the Republican is interested in finding a solution to these problems — but that his proposed “tougher on crime” policies don’t work.
“I am happy to see that my colleague Representative Sanfelippo has taken an interest in the cycles of violence that so tragically affect the City of Milwaukee,” Bowen said in a statement. “Decades of experience have shown us that further criminalizing communities does very little to discourage violence or recidivism of those who committed crime, but instead worsens the problem by actively disrupting family units, reducing opportunities for those who complete terms of incarceration, and directing taxpayer dollars away from needed community services and towards an expensive, bloated & ineffective prison system.”
Instead, Bowen pointed to a bill he recently introduced with Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison) and Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). This bill would provide $3 million in funding to violence prevention programs across the state.
“So I have an invitation for Rep. Sanfelippo: instead of grandstanding from a distance in your suburban district, take a stand for violence prevention with us, and sign your name onto LRB-2894 as a cosponsor,” Bowen said. “Better yet, convince your Republican colleagues in the Assembly and Senate caucuses to sign their names onto this bill, and make sure it makes its way through the committee process all the way to the floor of the Legislature for a vote.”
Sanfelippo blames local officials for the spike in crime in Milwaukee, but experts are less sure about the reasons — pandemic related stress, increases in unemployment, schools closing, high profile incidents of police violence and massive protests against the police are all possible theories.
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Milwaukee officials are also facing a budget crunch after decades of decisions by Republicans at the state level to given less in resources to Milwaukee. A bill that recently passed the Senate would punish Wisconsin municipalities by reducing the amount of shared revenue they receive if local officials cut police budgets — even if that money is instead allocated to violence prevention programs or mental health services.
Republicans in the Assembly also recently passed a — likely unconstitutional — bill that would exempt Wisconsinites from federal gun laws.
Sanfelippo also isn’t the only Wisconsin Republican using incidents of gun violence in the state’s urban areas for political reasons. Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch was tweeting on Tuesday about increases in homicides in Milwaukee and Madison.
“This is tragic, deadly failure,” the likely Republican candidate for governor in 2022 wrote.
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