On the Derek Williams Case and Advancing Effective Law Enforcement Practices

By LaShawndra Vernon, Milwaukee NAACP Milwaukee Branch Communications Chair

The NAACP Milwaukee Branch advocates for smarter, results-based criminal justice policies to keep our communities safe.

In February 2013, an inquest jury determined that three police officers ignored the pleas of Derek Williams, 22, who struggled to breathe for at least 15 minutes in the backseat of a police car. The jury determined that there was probable cause to believe a crime was committed. The decision not to seek charges by both federal and local officials has already polarized the relations between the Milwaukee Police Department and the community. We look forward to a comprehensive and thorough review by the United States Department of Justice into the patterns and practices of the Milwaukee Police Department in relation to the community. The NAACP Milwaukee Branch will continue to be an unyielding advocate for transparency, accountability and meaningful change within the Milwaukee Police Department.

In addition to addressing issues specific to the police department, the NAACP advocates for smarter, results-based criminal justice policies to keep our communities safe, including treatment for addiction and mental health, judicial discretion in sentencing, and an end to racial disparities at all levels of the system.

Making public safety and criminal justice “smart and safe”

We have developed a “smart and safe” framework to implement an advocacy agenda to ensure public safety as a civil and human right for all communities, and more specifically, the many communities in crisis. Instead of calling for “tough on crime” rhetoric and lock’em up practices, we must capture the true goals and aspirations of how public safety and criminal justice institutions should operate and perform in communities.

Our communities will become safer only when trust is built between the criminal justice system and the communities they serve. Given the current entrenchment in Milwaukee surrounding safe communities it is vital that we focus on the following four components of the Smart and Safe Initiative:

  1. Advancing Sentencing Reform and The Right to Vote for Formerly Incarcerated People
  2. Advancing Effective Law Enforcement Practices
  3. Elevating and supporting the voices of crime survivors
  4. Removing Employment Barriers for formerly incarcerated people In-custody deaths, while infrequent, may often be preventable.

The Milwaukee police department has already changed some of its policies and training procedures in response to Mr. Williams’ death. The NAACP Milwaukee Branch calls upon state officials to hold the Milwaukee police department accountable for its actions. This will require diversifying the Fire and Police Commission, working with the public to address concerns, and increasing transparency.

For more information on the Safe and Smart Initiative, or to get more involved in NAACP Milwaukee Branch, please visit our websites www.onemke.org, www.naacpmilwaukee.org or contact us at (414)973–9492

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on June 03, 2013

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