Rep. Ryan Clancy speaks out about controversial comments on police
Rooted in belief that policing doesn’t reduce crime
Rep. Ryan Clancy (D-Milwaukee). (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
State Rep. Ryan Clancy (D-Milwaukee) stood by comments last week that police work has “no dignity or value.” Clancy’s comments prompted a critical response from Republican lawmakers and law enforcement officers. But one Milwaukee activist group says Clancy was highlighting the reality of an ongoing problem.
Clancy — who is one half of the state Legislature’s socialist caucus and serves on the Milwaukee County board — told the Wisconsin Examiner he made the comments because he believes that it’s long past time to try something new when it comes to creating safe communities.
Clancy said the idea that money dedicated to policing could instead be invested in other policies to help reduce crime became a one-time conversation following 2020, but for the most part, people have now returned to the status quo.
“There are many programs that we’re not investing enough to do,” Clancy said. “If you’re looking at investments in housing and infrastructure and even parks, right, there are studies out there showing people’s exposure to green space, having natural spaces in areas around them all reduce crime in a way that policing never can.”
Clancy also said that police work is irredeemable because of its origins in slave catching. Modern policing evolved from slave patrols established to enforce Black codes and, later, Jim Crow laws.
“It means that American policing has always been bad and it always will be,” Clancy told the Wisconsin Examiner. “It’s not like we can get back to this to the early days… American policing… [is] epically racist and classist because that’s a dead end. That is the point of American policing.”
In his original Facebook comment that caused controversy Clancy wrote, “All work has dignity and value,” followed by an asterisk that said “not cops, though.”
Clancy clarified in a second comment that police “may be perfectly fine individuals, but their jobs have neither dignity or value.”
Conservatives and Republican lawmakers were quick to jump in. Sen. Van Wanggard (R-Racine), who is a retired police officer, called Clancy “clueless” and “classless.” Rep. Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser) said on social media that Clancy’s comments were “disheartening.”
“This particular representative has strongly stood by these troubling statements, which are disheartening and divisive, especially when addressing those who commit their lives to our safety and community welfare,” Magnafici wrote.
Magnafici added that Wisconsinites should “stand united in appreciation for those who serve and protect our communities. Now, more than ever, we should strive for understanding and collaboration instead of division.”
Apart from lawmakers, Clancy said he received calls from others about his remarks after Fox News did a story. Some people identified themselves as law enforcement members, some threatened him for his comments.
Clancy said the criticism won’t impede his work: “It will just give [Republicans], it’ll give them more talking points to rile up their base.”
“It would be really easy for me to go with the defaults of lawmakers and, you know, show up in photos with police, go to all the ceremonies and everything that comes along with that, that would be far easier,” Clancy said. “But I’ve been around police enough to know that that’s not helpful, and I think, again, the data says that police don’t keep us safe, and it would be irresponsible of me to kind of toe that line.”
Clancy’s comments come during a year in which crime has remained a serious issue for Milwaukee. While the city has seen a 13% drop in serious violent and property crimes overall, homicides and shootings have remained elevated.
Yet, clearance rates — or the rate at which police make an arrest — remain mixed. Police in Milwaukee made an arrest in the case of 56% of the city’s homicides in 2022 and in 56% of the homicides so far in 2023. That rate is slightly higher than the clearance rate of 51% in 2021. However, the clearance rates for most other crimes are low.
A 2022 survey by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute found that 77% of Wisconsinites approved of how their local police force is handling its job; 93% of white respondents reported having a great deal or some respect for the police in their community, while 82% of non-white residents said they felt the same.
Clancy, who serves on the Assembly Corrections committee and on the Milwaukee County Board’s Judiciary, Law Enforcement and General Services committee, said he feels responsible for having conversations that challenge mainstream ideas on policing, especially as Wisconsin continues to pass policies that renew focus on policing as a solution to crime.
The state Legislature passed in 2021 and Gov. Tony Evers signed laws that ban (with some exceptions) the use of chokeholds, require police departments to publish their use-of-force policies online, require the Wisconsin Department of Justice to annually publish data on the police use of force in the state and established a $600,000 grant program for community-oriented policing.
More recent policies have focused on renewing investment in policing, rather than reform measures.
2023 Act 12, which passed the Republican-led Legislature and was signed by Evers, included several provisions that imposed new controls over Milwaukee, including a requirement that school resource officers be put back in Milwaukee Public Schools and the removal of the Fire and Police Commission’s authority to set policy and provide oversight of police. The law also requires that local governments maintain the level of law enforcement from year to year.
Clancy, along with other Democrats, voted against the law.
“The most damaging part of that aside from the terrible policy barbs that were aimed at the City of Milwaukee was the idea that police budgets and the number of police and the percentage of police funding in every single municipality across the state can never go down until the end of time, or until 12 is repealed,” Clancy said. “That is such a bizarrely massive policy, and it’s not realistic.”
Law enforcement often takes up a large portion of government budgets. The city of Milwaukee spends almost half its general budget on police.
Clancy’s strong stances against policing and in support of investment in other public services have drawn criticism from others. Clancy in his county board position voted against a sales tax increase, which the county was given the ability to pass through Act 12.
Milwaukee County Board Chair Marcelia Nicholson, seemed to criticize Clancy, who is white, for his continued opposition to the tax, which is meant to help keep the city from reaching financial bankruptcy some time in the future.
“It’s a trope as plain as day,” Nicholson said during the county board meeting where supervisors approved the sales tax. “White liberal ally tosses aside leadership by Black and brown people with lived experiences when their beliefs, methods or individual voices do not square with an agenda that they are advocating.”
Clancy said, however, that he is often following the direction of Black and brown community leaders like that from activist groups including Liberate MKE, Leaders Igniting Transformation and Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression.
“I had to deliver the news to them the first time we saw a draft that put Milwaukee Police back in MPS and it was crushing,” Clancy said. “This was a campaign that they had waged for a long time, and that they won overwhelmingly. MPS and MPS students in the community said, ’No, we don’t want the school to prison pipeline. We don’t want cops in our schools,’ and with one stroke Republicans and, frankly, the governor undid that.”
The Milwaukee Alliance stood behind Clancy’s comments and his work in the Legislature and on the Milwaukee County Board. Outreach chair Alan Chavoya told the Wisconsin Examiner that he believes the demands that Clancy stands for are coming from his constituency.
“[Clancy is] doing a good job of calling them out and he hasn’t been shying away from these issues, namely that the police aren’t really equipped to handle many of the issues that we sort of as a society rely on them for,” Chavoya said.
Chavoya said it was frustrating for the group to see policy included in Act 12 that targeted advances that the group had advocated for when it came to policing.
The group advocated for a policy approved by the Police and Fire commission in April that requires video of critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths to be released to the public within 15 days of the incident and that the police department give the family of any victims of those incidents access to the video within 48 hours. The FPC is no longer capable of approving such policies due to Act 12.
Chavoya said the group was not worried about how Clancy’s comments could affect progress on other priorities or the lawmaker’s ability to achieve bipartisan agreements. He said that current agreements like Act 12 have included compromise at the expense of Milwaukee.
“The latest example we’ve seen of this sort of bipartisanship, this oracle compromise, what did it result in? Well, it resulted in Wisconsin Act 12,” Chavoya said. “What has it done for Milwaukee? Based on examples, we’ve seen that when there is compromise and bipartisanship, it usually means terrible things for the people of Milwaukee… Issues like that, I think, just reflect the inequality and reflect the imbalance that exists. The imbalance of power and how our communities are always expected to compromise.”
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