/ Opinions / A cheerleader for violence

A cheerleader for violence

August 28, 2020

The events that have unfolded in Kenosha this week have been universally described as horrifying and that they certainly are, from so many different perspectives.

What strikes us most is that, in situations like these, we need tough and courageous elected leadership — leadership that people can count on to ensure due process and justice, to secure public safety, and to guarantee the accountability and transparency that is the foundation of public trust.

We got none of that this week from Gov. Tony Evers. As we watched the governor conduct himself — in horror — we saw not a leader who was working for the justice he says he savors, or for the businesses he says are his allies.

What we saw this week instead was a cheerleader for violence.

The governor’s initial statement Sunday night on the Jacob Blake shooting was nothing less than disgusting. For one thing, he prosecuted and convicted the police officers involved in the shooting, immediately telling the state his sympathies were with those “demand justice, equity, and accountability for black lives” and that he stood against the “excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with black Wisconsinites.”

All that based on one partly obstructed citizen’s video. All that without even caring about what the officers’ side of the story was. All that without letting his own attorney general complete an investigation.

His self-proclaimed conviction of the officers neutered his own words about justice. No governor — no one — can stand for social justice when he or she does not stand for due process and fairness.

But the most disgusting part of Evers’ message was what he didn’t say. Indeed, he said not a word about the need for peace. Peace was a word that did not utter from his mouth. He did not say violence would not be tolerated, even though violence was already coursing through the streets of Kenosha. 

As the governor issued his statement, small businesses were being looted and burned. The lives and livelihoods of unquestionably innocent people were being destroyed. Entire residential neighborhoods were being traumatized and terrorized.

But the callous governor did not call for the terror to be stopped. He issued no call for justice for them. He offered no sympathies for their losses, and no guarantees that the state would protect them.

Instead, he actually issued a call for action for those looting and rioting in the streets. Indeed, after saying there must be accountability for black lives, and then convicting the officers in judge Evers’s own court, the governor said empathy was not enough.

What was needed, Evers said, was action. To be fair, Evers was specifically talking about legislative action, but his broader message was clear, that action in the streets was welcome, too.

Evers made that message more explicit as the city burned and the rioting escalated: He sent in the National Guard to, in his view and words, help protect the right of people to “peacefully protest.” 

Wink, wink, Evers was actually telling the rioters he was sending in troops to protect them. With such strong messages, the governor himself was helping to incite even more violence. Finally, as things got out of hand, Evers said violence and destruction could not continue, and he doubled down on the National Guard, but, even in that message, the call for public safety and an end to the violence wasn’t the first words out of his mouth. 

Instead, they were buried beneath more pronouncements about ending systemic racism and injustice. The injustice being inflicted on the citizens of Kenosha at that very moment seemed like an afterthought, a vague political necessity.

Now two people are dead. Jacob Blake is not.

None of this is to say that there is not systemic racism and injustice. There is. But allowing people to inflict injustice and violence upon innocent others in the name of that racial injustice is to drain any meaning from the word “justice” itself.

None of this is to say there are not bad cops. There are. This newspaper has reported on them and called them out for years.

But the vast majority are good and decent officers who put their lives on the line every day for our safety. To paint them all with the brush of racism and excessive force strips any moral authority from those who convict all law enforcement and encourage rioting in the streets.

And none of this is to say the police officers in the Blake shooting aren’t guilty. To say that we should await the results of the state Department of Justice’s investigation — being carried out, after all, under the direction of Democrat Josh Kaul, an ally of the governor — isn’t to take their side.

It is to take the side of due process. It is truly to take the side of justice.

Jacob Blake deserves justice. The officers involved in the shooting deserve justice. And the innocent people and business owners of Kenosha deserve justice, too.

Reasoned fact-finding rather than belligerent incitement will take us there. But Gov. Evers insists on living in a place where the flames only grow ever higher.

Finally, both the governor’s call for a special session and Assembly speaker Robin Vos’ formation of a task force in police reform are partisan jokes. 

Task forces are almost always spectacular wastes of time, used mostly to pad the per diem pockets of elected officials and as a reason why legislators cannot be part-time. Look, we’re working!

Likewise, Evers’ proposed measures are simply a way for the governor to use a crisis to further a political agenda. You know, just like he and other Democratic governors have used during the coronavirus pandemic.

That said, there are some good proposals in the law enforcement package. There are some bad ones, too.

For example, true to his liberal form, the governor wants a million dollar grant program to “fund community organizations that work to mediate conflicts.” Translated, that means he wants to restock the shelves of the bureaucracy to administer another grant, and he wants to fund local “grassroots” radical groups that promote activist agendas.

But the measures would also prohibit no-knock warrants, which are a troubling phenomenon in the United States. Prior to 1995, they were relatively rare, but their use has exploded in the years since. They are ripe for abuse, dangerous for citizens and law enforcement alike, and fundamentally conflict with citizens’ right to self-defense and the Castle Doctrine.

So there is good and bad, but none of it should be enacted or defeated in a time of crisis, when short-term passions can cloud long-term sensibilities.

Legislative action should be later. Right now, it’s probably best that we all focus on due process for everybody in Kenosha, on getting control of our city streets, and — somehow, someway — on getting control of our cheerleading governor, before he leads another parade of violence into a town near you.

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