Commentary

The DeShawnda Bailey case exemplifies the dysfunction of Milwaukee institutions

Black Lives Matter protesters gather and march to the Milwaukee City Hall. Many called for the removal of Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Black Lives Matter protesters gather and march to the Milwaukee City Hall. Many called for the removal of Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Milwaukee Public Schools teacher DeShawnda Bailey was violently abused by Milwaukee police at her place of employment, exposing institutional discrimination, political dysfunction and complacency in the city of Milwaukee against African American citizens.  

There are several institutions that failed Bailey and continue to fail many others.   

Bailey’s case went from a public employee trying to navigate the politics within Milwaukee Public Schools to a police brutality case when officers from the Milwaukee Police Department stepped in. Bailey, who is an African American woman, went to Milwaukee Public Schools headquarters on June 1 to inquire about discrepancies on her payroll checks and funds she says were placed in her personal account and then abruptly rescinded by MPS, causing her account to be overdrawn. 

When her phone calls and correspondence went unanswered by MPS human resources and the payroll department, Bailey went to MPS headquarters in person. The livestream she made of her visit on Facebook shows her peacefully waiting outside of the MPS headquarters when suddenly Milwaukee police officers Shawn Humitz and Hector Claudio come on the scene.  She is shown talking to them for a while until Humitz goes inside MPS headquarters and comes out with a form that has DeShawnda Bailey’s name typed on it and states that she is trespassing and that she is a former employee. Ms. Bailey is shocked and tells the police that she was still working as an MPS employee on Friday, May 28, and that she was unaware of this new status as a former MPS employee.

In the live stream video, Bailey asks how she will get the check stubs that were promised to her by the MPS administration. The officer tells her to contact MPS human resources and she states that they have been ignoring her emails and calls.  As Ms. Bailey is peacefully speaking to officer Humtiz he tells her that she will be arrested for trespassing if she does not get up right now.  This statement is made to Bailey as officer Humitz approaches and makes physical contact with her. De-escalation strategies emphasized in the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission’s new use-of-force policy are not used. Bailey is heard saying that she wants to go to her car and that she is leaving and the live stream ends with loud voices and chaos.  

DeShawnda Bailey (photos via her GoFundMe page)
DeShawnda Bailey (photos via her GoFundMe page)

Several hours later, on Facebook, a Milwaukee County jail mugshot picture of Bailey starts circulating with her hair in disarray, bruises on her face and eyes closed while a nurse holds her head up for the picture. According to police reports and Bailey’s testimony, the police officers grabbed and threw her phone, stopping the live Facebook video feed, socked Bailey in the back several times and pulled her hair. She was transported to the hospital in an ambulance, where she was handcuffed to her hospital bed and then transported to the Milwaukee County jail and held for two days without being allowed a phone call.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Milwaukee Police Department is investigating officers Shawn Humitz and Hector Claudio after the incident, but they are still on active duty.  MPD officer Humitz has a history of using excessive force against African Americans. One incident resulted in a settlement payment of $98,000 in a 2013 lawsuit after Humitz was accused of punching two men, including a church elder, inside a Black church during a Sunday night service.

For too long, the city has ignored the warning signs of dysfunction and abuse by institutions that are supposed to serve the public. Those in charge of oversight have been complacent and citizens have not been informed of relevant events. The Fire and Police Commission is the oversight agency for the Milwaukee Police Department.  It allowed officer Humitz to continue working with the public after the pastor of the Family Worship Center Pentacostal Church of Holiness, Rev. Willie Lewis, testified that Humitz and other officers punched and kicked churchgoers and beat a man who was handcuffed, after Humitz chased him as he ran into the church. 

Bailey has filed another excessive force charge with the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission regarding officer Humitz and must depend on justice coming from this same dysfunctional group. The Fire and Police Commission is currently under fire for promoting an MPD police officer to lieutenant who placed a gun to the head of a woman during a drunken, off-duty road rage incident in 2006.  

The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission is a non-functioning entity when it comes to protecting the citizens of Milwaukee from police brutality.  

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There has been a lot of in-fighting, member replacements and now another member is leaving his position early after objecting to the decision to promote the officer who endangered citizens in our community. 

Bailey has documents that show she was an active employee with Milwaukee Public Schools on June 1, when she went to discuss discrepancies on her payroll checks.  Milwaukee Public Schools has yet to show Bailey or the public proof that she no longer worked there and was trespassing. Certainly, they did not follow standard professional practices, policies and contractual obligations to an MPS employee. 

Bailey is now facing years of unnecessary litigation to set the record straight. Milwaukee Public Schools’ frequent litigation with MPS employees signals a problem, and a misuse of city resources.  

The district has a history of discrimination, and has terminated four times as many African Americans as Caucasians over the last ten years according to data provided by Milwaukee Public Schools through an open records request. 

A 2019 audit of Milwaukee Public Schools by Council of Great City Schools found that MPS administration is not adequately trained regarding employee harassment and discrimination. 

 DeShawnda Bailey’s case is a clear signifier of the climate for African American employees in Milwaukee Public Schools.  

Now, school officials will likely use the understaffed city attorney’s office to pursue years of litigation in the matter— a misuse of taxpayer funds. In another case, Williams v. Milwaukee Public Schools, the attorney’s office requested a stay, proclaiming that they are understaffed.

Bailey has a long road of ahead of her, battling several dysfunctional institutions — the Milwaukee Police Department, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission and Milwaukee Public Schools — in a hyper segregated city rife with institutional and systemic discrimination.  

All the political and legal maneuvering by the city will be paid for by taxpayers — an expense they would not have to bear if functioning institutions treated everyone with equal respect.

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Beverly Hamilton-Williams
Beverly Hamilton-Williams

Beverly Hamilton-Williams is an educator with a degree in speech pathology and special education from Texas Southern University. She also has a M.Ed. from Cardinal Stritch University. She worked in public schools for 25 years and currently teaches at a private religious school. She is a former NAACP youth council advisor for the Milwaukee. Branch NAACP and worked as a community advocate in this role for many years.

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