“This is our money; This is our city ‘
By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When it comes to Milwaukee’s future, LiberateMKE has a clear vision of what the city could be if the city just redistributed its funds. His current goal is to show it to others too.
LiberateMKE is a campaign movement that began as part of the African American Roundtable in 2019. The organization restarted the campaign earlier this year on Juniteenth Day. As in previous years, the overall goal of the campaign is the same: to dispose of money from the Milwaukee Police Department and use it for other purposes.
“We know that the work we started in 2019 is far from over,” said Markasa Tucker-Harris, Executive Director of the African American Roundtable. “This is our money; This is our city. “
Recently, the African American Roundtable and LiberateMKE released a report on the Milwaukee Police Department budget and Milwaukee retirement plan. The group worked on the report for nine months, Tucker-Harris said.
The city currently contributes $ 71 million annually to its pension contribution, according to the report. The Wisconsin Policy Forum reported that the pension contribution will increase by $ 78 million from 2023.
The report found that if no changes are made, the additional costs will be covered by property tax, reducing funding for other programs.
The report describes four scenarios in which the City of Milwaukee can address its retirement problem without increasing revenue.
The four scenarios are as follows: proportional to department spending, with all department budgets decreasing by 11.5%; proportional to the pension contribution, at which the budgets of the departments are reduced by the amount in which they contribute to the pension liability; leaving things as they are, which protects the police budget; and finally invalidate the police.
The fourth option is the preferred selection from the African American Roundtable. In this scenario, the organization proposes to cut the police budget by 26%. This would reduce his budget by $ 78 million from $ 295.3 million for 2021.
The overall goal of the LiberateMKE campaign is to dispose of funds from the Milwaukee Police Department and use them for programs to support violence prevention.
People say they want the police, Tucker-Harris said, but increased policing doesn’t mean preventing violence. Instead, the organization wants the funds to flow into housing and participatory budgeting.
When the group originally launched the LiberateMKE campaign, their initial efforts saw a reduction in the Milwaukee Police Department’s budget by $ 900,000, with $ 300,000 being used for an emergency housing program, $ 240,000 for a birth mothers pilot, and more . The following year the group helped raise $ 2.1 million from the Milwaukee Police Department budget.
Tucker-Harris said the three demands of the 2021 campaign are to divest $ 75 million from the Milwaukee Police Department, initiate a participatory budget process between the Aldermanic Districts, and ensure that funds from the American Rescue Plan Act are not passed to the Go to Milwaukee Police Department.
The group has collected postcards expressing their support for the goals of the organization, with signatures for the Joint Council and the Mayor’s Office. The African American Roundtable is also collecting signatures for its petition on participatory budgeting.
With participatory budgeting, the people decide where the money goes. It puts power in the hands of the people, said Tucker-Harris.
At the moment the organization is working to educate people about how participatory budgeting works. It would be something new to Milwaukee, said Tucker-Harris, which is exciting.
It gives power to the community, she added.
“I think it’s important for our community to organize,” she said. “The voices of the people will change the councilors’ perspective.”
City councils should listen to their voters’ votes, she said, and if they don’t, they could be absent.
The work that organizations like the African American Roundtable are doing needs to be done. If this doesn’t happen now, the next generation will, Tucker-Harris said. Tucker-Harris not only advocates participatory budgeting and the definition of the police, but encourages people to organize and have conversations.
The organization requires capacity, she noted, and it can be difficult to get people to volunteer or know where to start. Recently, the African American Roundtable launched its Leadership Development Cohort, which gives people the tools they need to organize themselves and “create the communities we want to live”.
She also encourages people to reach out to organizations they admire for advice.
Another important aspect of changing the status quo is relationships.
Talk to neighbors and family, build relationships with them, she said. Imagine a world where a person doesn’t call the police about their neighbor, but rather approaches them to discuss and resolve the situation for themselves, Tucker-Harris said.
“I urge people to go into their neighborhood,” said Tucker-Harris. “I challenge us as a community to just have a conversation with someone.”
The full African American Roundtable report on its solutions to the Milwaukee pension problem can be found on aartmke.org under the News & Media tab.