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Milwaukee needs a new sheriff: Interview with Angela Walker

By staff |
October 15, 2014
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Milwaukee WI - For the first time in Milwaukee's history, an African American woman is running as a socialist candidate for the office of Milwaukee county sheriff. The following is an interview that that Fight Back! conducted with Walker. For more information about her campaign, see Angela N Walker for Milwaukee County Sheriff

Fight Back! asked Angela Walker to describe her campaign. Here is her response:

I believe a socialist can play a big role in the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff is primarily an administrative position, overseeing the operations of the office in the jail, House of Correction and county entities, including parks and transit. I believe there is a need for an approach that considers the needs of the people of Milwaukee County as well as the people who are employed in the sheriff's office. If we look at this office as part of the infrastructure of our county and its role as true public service rather than the customer-oriented view the current sheriff takes, we will get a different result.

I decided to run for sheriff’s office because I think a social justice approach needs to be taken to address the poverty and systemic racism that keeps people trapped in circumstances they did not create and do not want to live in. If we want a safer, healthier county, the needs of all residents must be addressed.

Capitalism impacts policing in a variety of different ways I think. One way is through residency requirements. The people policing the streets here do not want to live in the city in which they serve and that makes a difference. There is class conflict exacerbated by racism that results in officers who don't understand or care for the people who live in this city. The federal government's policy of giving military equipment to local law enforcement entities is a huge problem, because when you have the weapons, you need to find reasons to use them. The epically failed ‘War on Drugs’ and mass incarceration, the systematic defunding and closing of public schools, the industry that is prison construction and staffing - you are talking about the commodification of human beings and human suffering. It is disgusting.

I think that as we see more people being denied access to living-wage work, safe and healthy housing, good healthcare, robust transit and public schools, all the things that people are supposed to have in a functioning society, you will keep seeing the kind of violence on our streets that we are seeing now. Add to that the removal from communities of people who could be productive and present for their families through over-incarceration, you have instability. Social safety nets like food stamps and unemployment insurance are being cut past the bone and people are seriously in need and not being helped. Poverty is a direct cause of crime and that is not being addressed here now.

I am opposing the current sheriff because his approach is completely wrong for the issues this county is facing. This is not the time for political pandering to right-wing forces that have no interest in the well being of the inner city or the people affected by hurtful policies. This is what the current sheriff has done and continues to do. We who live in this county need elected officials who are fully aware of the impact of punitive and restrictive policies on marginalized communities. There has to be an awareness of the role systemic racism and class conflict play in keeping people from accessing the resources to live better lives. The current sheriff does not believe in alternatives to incarceration, working cooperatively with other county government and city government agencies, or with community groups that work for social justice. He blames the poor for their condition, and does not consider the structures in place that keep poor folks poor. There is no time for that kind of thinking here, not when so many are suffering. His "tough on crime" stance has not alleviated crime on our streets.

My primary plans for the sheriff's office include working with community groups to address ways to end mass incarceration in this county. Manpower is being wasted in locking up people for nonviolent marijuana offenses, and assisting in ICE raids that terrorize our communities. I'd be interested to see how deputies are being deployed and where they could better serve. I want to restore programming to the House of Correction and revamp policies so inmates have educational options and services available. I am interested in expanding programs like the Huber work program, so inmates who can be productive have that opportunity. I will do what I can to keep people from being removed from their homes by banks. There is too much blight in this city, and foreclosed homes do nothing to add to the community. I am very interested in creating a work environment for deputies and other staff that fosters open communication and clear objectives, as well as mutual respect and respect for the members of this community at large. I want to work with groups addressing human trafficking and help end it here.

As to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, unless there is a specific warrant for a specific individual that has committed a specific crime; I have no intention of expending manpower to help terrorize members of this community. There is a county ordinance on the books that gives the sheriff's office latitude on this. I do not believe in the indefinite detention of people, especially not of folks who have not committed violent crimes.

Excessive and/or lethal force must be addressed by law enforcement. I want to explore nonlethal and more effective ways of dealing with conflicts in the jail and the House of Correction, and on the street when applicable. We cannot forget that public trust and accountability are essential.

I believe that advocating for living-wage work, fully funded and available educational opportunities, particularly for youth, and services that help families sustain themselves are necessary to reduce recidivism. People who have been incarcerated need strong communities with resources that will help them get back to work or school, and be productive where they are. I also want the voting rights of people who have been incarcerated restored to them immediately upon release. We need to be able to respect the humanity of those who have been locked up, and the presence of community support will help with this. I would be able to implement these policies by working with organizations and legislators to build them and put them in place.

I think the biggest challenges, from where I am standing, for people who are incarcerated right now are reintegration into the community, family restoration and finding living-wage work or educational opportunities. Many, if not most, people who are released from jail or prison are reentering the community with the burden of financial obligations to the county and state hanging over them. How are they supposed to address this when there are no structures in place to help them? And currently, there are very few. We can work on that.

If I am elected, I will be the first African-American woman socialist elected as Milwaukee County Sheriff. That is pretty historic, especially at a time when people are realizing that the two-party system this country uses is not working for them. There are a whole lot of folks looking to independents to make the changes they want to see, and I think that it is empowering. When people realize their own power, realize that they can stand up outside of this system, without money or corporate backing, and run candidates who stand for what they believe in, it is awesome. People who truly represent people whose issues have been ignored can make giant impacts across this country. I am excited about the prospects.