Wisconsin Spotlight | June 26, 2020
MADISON — Justice Wamubu-Haynes was a new father at 22 — just days before Father’s Day — when he was murdered in the street near 25th and West Mitchell in Milwaukee.
Justice’s father, John Haynes, was left to grieve and wonder why as he faced Father’s Day without his son.
“The bottom line is my son is dead for no reason,” Haynes told WTMJ-4. “Me losing my son hurts me in ways that is unexplainable.”
Justice was one of many victims of another violent weekend in Milwaukee.
As of Sunday, there were 79 homicides in the city already on the year, police told the TV station. That’s up nearly 120 percent from the 36 homicides recorded over the same period in 2019.
The spike in violent crime, the likes not seen in Milwaukee in nearly 30 years, has much to do with the lockdowns issued by state and local officials and the release of dangerous criminals amid fears of the COVID-19 outbreak, law enforcement officials say.
More so, the politics of policing, with dwindling support for law enforcement among communities of color and pandering politicians is cutting deep into cop morale.
“Jurisdictions released many offenders in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in jails. And courts in many places have been closed. That has led to a feeling among offenders that they can commit crimes with impunity,” notes a recent report from the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based police research and policy think tank.
“In addition, police in some cities are less proactive in their enforcement, in order to avoid interactions with the public that could spread the disease.”
In recent weeks, police officers have been pulled from their usual beats, including investigation of violent crimes, to handle crowd control and — too often — riots from demonstrations ostensibly against racism and police brutality.
PERF surveyed four cities — Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Milwaukee and New York — that have seen the largest increases in crime rates since the pandemic hit.
Milwaukee Inspector Leslie Thiele said the police department has seen a surge of violent crime after the stay-at-home orders were issued.
“We’ve had an increase since the fall, but it has increased immensely over the last couple of months,” Thiele told the think tank.
He noted mass shootings like the one in late February at the Molson Coors plant but a lot of the violent crime is coming from drugs and “silly disputes.” Shootings related to domestic altercations are up, an indicator, perhaps, of the toll that the Evers administration’s lockdowns took on mental health.
War on cops
Thiele said the department isn’t getting much support from the Milwaukee Common Council or the city’s police and fire commission. Several members of the council have called for cutting the police budget by 10 percent — and that may just be a down payment on an effort to defund police.
“We have had a lot of people come forward and basically say they’ve had enough and retire. We’ve had younger officers who have been on for a year up to 10 years, and have resigned because they’re not willing to put their families through any news stories that would come out if they were involved in anything. It has been difficult, and morale is low,” the inspector said.
Officers are doing what they can, Thiele said, but, overall, “proactive policing is at a minimum.”
Milwaukee Inspector Terrance Gordon said police departments in major cities are “distracted” with other pressing business. That may be an understatement. More than 700 law enforcement officers have been injured in riots across the United States in recent weeks, with officer two deaths, according to the New York Post.
In New York alone, nearly 300 members of the force have been hurt during the demonstrations through June 8, according to the NYPD.
“Our department is distracted with politics, inquiries, demonstrations, everything you can imagine except serving the neighborhoods we come to work to serve,” Gordon told PERF.
“Morale is terrible. But people don’t have low morale because of something the chief did; it’s because they’re afraid that nobody in this community is going to stand up for them. In 25 years, I’ve never seen it like this. I never thought that I’d see the day where a Milwaukee police officer would withdraw from the community they swore to serve. But I can see it beginning to happen right now, and it’s just terrible, because on the other side of all these crimes are victims,” the inspector said.