We need to talk about the Wisconsin Republican Party’s fascination with killing Black people.
On a national level, the way Republicans lined up behind Trump led to even conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin describing the party as a cult. When the pandemic spread and Trump led his people onto a path of denial and conspiracy theory, Rubin got more specific: calling the party a death cult.
Republicans in Wisconsin epitomize that death cult zeal–with a particular racial focus. From their reactions to the last year of pandemic and protest, to the upcoming budget process, the policy aims of the Republican Party consistently pursue the deaths of Black people. Their obsession most recently manifested in the state senate’s passage of Senate Bill 8, which explicitly denies covid19 vaccines to Wisconsin’s highest risk population: prison captives.
In Wisconsin, when Republicans target prisoners, they are targeting Black people. They might deny seeing race, and some liberals who focus on respectability and representation might even agree with them. Everyone wants to decouple race and prison, but the difficult truth is that this state overfills its prisons with Black people.
Wisconsin has been first or second in racially targeted incarceration for years. According to a 2019 study by the Vera institute, Black people make up 7% of Wisconsin’s population, but 41% of its prison captives. The sentencing project found that the Black/white incarceration differential is 11.5, more than twice the national average.
These numbers are not an accident, and they also do not indicate that Black people are inherently more criminal. Studies have consistently shown that, even for crimes white people commit most often, Black people are more often arrested. Law enforcement statistics and some researchers still wrongfully correlate Black people with some violent crime, however that correlation goes away in studies where factors like poverty and socio-economic status are accounted for. The association between race and violent crime persists because of both racially biased research, and because it is difficult to find a control group of white people experiencing the same amount of economic deprivation and neglect as the most low-income Black communities.
A fundamental fact we at abolishmke hope everyone comes to understand is that incarceration correlates to race and class far more than it correlates to actual criminal behavior. The vast majority of criminals do not go to prison, and white criminals–especially rich white criminals–are far less likely to be surveilled, pursued, arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced to time in prison than Black people.
This truth makes clear that prison and police are not tools of public safety, but weapons of white supremacy. When Republican politicians pass their “tougher on crime” bills and laws to increase the harms of prison, like Senate Bill 8, they are trying to wield those weapons against the Black community.
Weaponizing the Pandemic
The failure of the Wisconsin prison system to protect its captives against COVID19 further enables the death cult. More than half the people held in the DOC have tested positive for covid19. So far, the DOC administration has admitted to 25 deaths, but we have reason to suspect they are undercounting or misattributing deaths. Despite this, the new head of the Division of Adult Institutions (DAI), Sarah Cooper, continues to put the people she holds captive at excessive risk for the sake of enforcing petty property rules. This is in direct violation of the DAI Policy on social distancing—a critical part of managing the spread of covid both inside and outside prisons.
Prisons are and will continue to be the most dangerous places to live in the state. The Republicans in the state senate want more people living in that danger, and for them to get less protection from the pandemic. It’s hard to imagine a non-death cult motive for these policies. The Republicans are working hard to ensure that more Black people die.
The author of Senate Bill 8 is Van Wanggaard, he’s a former cop representing suburbs around Racine who is only a state senator because of cheating. Wanggaard is head of the senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. There he has:
- indefinitely suspended the confirmation hearing for parole commission chair John Tate II, a Black man
- cast consistently partisan votes
- brought a gun to the capitol building
He first tried to deprive people in prison of the vaccine through an amendment to Senate Bill 1, the covid19 relief bill. When Governor Evers vetoed that, the Republicans began reintroducing and passing its provisions piecemeal. Wanggaard’s public statements about denying vaccines to prisoners play on racialized fears and stigmatizing language. We’re not going to give those statements a platform here, but they were effective at recruiting a bunch of other Republican cultists to line up in support. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) proposed an amendment to the bill that replaced most of its language with a denunciation of injecting political bias or partisanship into vaccine distribution. The amendment was rejected along party lines.
Encouraging Murder by Police
Van Wanggaard also authored Senate Bill 119, which seeks to penalize any municipality that reduces its police budget. He calls it the “fund the police” bill, a direct contrary response to demands from last summer’s massive protests. The police in amerika murder three people per day on average, and those murders, like the prison system, disproportionately target Black people.
Milwaukee’s African American Roundtable (AART) has been running a strong and successful campaign to defund the Milwaukee police department for two budget cycles. Van Wanggaard’s “fund the police” bill would reduce Milwaukee’s share of state revenue if the common council reduced police funding. It effectively imposes a cost on Milwaukee if our city’s elected alderpeople respond to their constituents. There are call-ins and sign-on statements you can participate in against this bill by AART and the Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
It seems Wisconsin Republicans are not satisfied to cheat their way into the state legislature, or to simply represent their gerrymandered white districts. They want to pass this bill, which will specifically undermine democratic processes and decision-making in Milwaukee, a city they do not represent, live in, or have any real understanding of. How else are these white politicians from the suburbs supposed to try and get Black people killed?
Looking back to the early days of the pandemic, we find another obvious example. By forcing the spring presidential primary to occur on April 7, 2020, Republican scored a double hitter for white supremacy. The pandemic primary first increased the spread of covid19, especially in densely populated urban areas. Secondly, it reduced voter turnout, especially in those same areas. With one action, the Republican Death Cult achieved a few of their favorite things: killing more Black people, suppressing Black voters, and cheating the election process.
A Budget Based on Terror
This year, it seems the Republicans want to repeat that achievement by conducting the public hearings on the state budget through in-person events. As with the pandemic primary, in-person hearings will leverage the risk of covid19 exposure to suppress political participation in these budget hearings.
During the last budget cycle (2019-21), the majority of public comments strongly opposed the Republican agenda. This should come as no surprise, as it matches Wisconsin voting patterns and polling data. Republicans don’t seem to care how unpopular their agenda is. They’ve established minority rule and used it to pass a budget short on popular programs and rife with bullshit. Regarding prison, the contrast between popular will and budget outcomes was particularly stark.
At budget hearings across the state, anti-prison organizers presented dozens of in-person testimonials calling for defunding the DOC, investing in alternatives, and closing the prison in Milwaukee (MSDF). Formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones shared personal stories, appealing to the alleged values of faith-based conservatives on the committee. Advocates also presented detailed financial data to appeal to the supposed frugality of fiscal conservatives on the committee.
Despite these various efforts, the joint finance committee and then the state legislature passed a budget based on white supremacist terror. Their budget not only expanded funding for the DOC and MSDF, but also added the construction of a new prison in Green Bay (something they’d previously tried and failed due to public opposition). The message was clear: the Republican party’s commitment to racial terror trumps both their faith-based and fiscal conservative values.
A Weak Defense
In 2019, Governor Tony Evers vetoed the new prison and some other harmful provisions out of the terror budget, but we aren’t confident he’ll do the same this spring. It is truly unfortunate that the man Wisconsin elected to defend against this ravenous death cult is a such a meek uninspiring moderate. The very modest prison reforms in Evers’ proposed a budget have already been squarely rejected by Death Cult leadership, yet he remains eternally naive.
Somehow, after years of intractable gridlock, it seems Evers believes bipartisanship will suddenly emerge and win the day. What we need is a governor who vetos prison expansion and resolves overcrowding by moving people out of danger. The Death Cult can do nothing to prevent a governor from granting thousands of pardons and releasing people from prison.
Instead, Tony Evers created a second round of public hearings about his budget. He probably hopes these hearings will rally public support to improve his deal-making position with the Republicans. We fear that in his desperation, Tony Evers will trade away prison reforms for his clear policy favorite: education. It’s more likely there will be no deals, though.
The death-cult-controlled joint finance committee doesn’t follow public opinion. Last budget cycle they proved that public testimony means nothing to them. Their budget will surely include another prison.
The Republican Party has become a death cult. We should expect nothing from it but another terror budget that reflects the values of the wealthy, white, middle-and-upper class suburban minority whom they serve. That’s who they’ve gerrymandered the state to overcount. Serving them is how they will stay in office. It’s also how they will keep Wisconsin the worst place for Black people to live in amerika.