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Wisconsin governor calls special session following police shooting

Republican Assembly leaders are creating their own task force to examine police policies and standards, racial disparities and public safety
Credit: AP
Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is calling the Wisconsin State Legislature into a special session on police accountability and transparency next week, following the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by Kenosha police on Sunday.

“Today I am calling for a Special Session of the Legislature to take up the package of legislation we announced earlier this year,” Gov. Evers said in a statement. “We must begin the long but important path toward ensuring our state and our country start to live up to our promises of equity and justice. I am urging the Legislature to rise to this occasion and give this special session the urgent and productive effort this moment demands and that the people of Wisconsin deserve.” 

Proposed legislation calls for statewide use of force standards, and a model use of force policy for law enforcement agencies. A separate measure would call on agencies to ban the use of chokeholds.

Additional proposals call for mandatory annual training for all law enforcement officers and a $1 million grant program for violence prevention outreach.

RELATED: Police shooting of Black man stirs unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Protests erupted in Kenosha in the hours after the shooting, sparking concerns of more unrest across the country similar to what was seen after the May death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Chris Ott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said the shooting “looks like attempted murder."

“Exhale,” said Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, a retired police officer from Racine, which is next to Kenosha. “Everyone should take a deep breath. ... We must let law and reason, not emotion, guide the next steps.”

But Evers was passionate in his response, saying he stands with everyone who has demanded justice, equity and accountability and against excessive use of force when engaged with Black people.

“While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country,” Evers said.

Wanggaard was among Republicans who condemned Evers for his comments, which were issued just as protesters took to the streets in Kenosha and clashed with police.

“The best leaders attempt to diffuse situations, not escalate them,” Wanggaard said. “Evers’ statement was irresponsible and inflammatory. He jumped to conclusions without first having all the facts. At a time when stereotyping situations is especially risky, Evers stereotyped every police interaction with people of color — harming both.”

Pete Deates, president of the Kenosha police union, called Evers’ statement “wholly irresponsible.”

“As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident,” Deates said in a statement. “We ask that you withhold from passing judgment until all the facts are known and released.”

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Monday said he was creating a task force to examine police policies and standards, racial disparities, educational opportunities and public safety. He did not address any of the bills Evers and Democrats have advocated.

“We must find a path forward as a society that brings everyone together,” Vos said, while denouncing violent protests and saying investigators must be able to complete their work “to know if the shocking 20-second video clip shared with the media tells the whole story.”

Wisconsin Republicans echoed a law-and-order theme that President Donald Trump has been using in his reelection campaign, including during stops to Minnesota and Wisconsin last weekWhile calling for peaceful protests, Wisconsin Republicans also urged patience given the ongoing investigation.

Jim Steineke, Republican majority leader of the Wisconsin Assembly, didn't call out Evers by name but urged elected officials to “resist the temptation to rush to judgment.”

“The frustration and anger that many in our communities are feeling must be met with empathy, but cannot be further fueled by politicians’ statements or actions that can stoke flames of violence,” Steineke said.

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