'We Aren't Giving Up': Wisconsin Governor Fights To Combat Police Violence

Sep 4, 2020
Originally published on September 4, 2020 12:05 pm

In the days since the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the city has been the site of protests and unrest. During one of the protests over Blake's shooting and an Illinois teenager allegedly killed two protesters.

The state's governor, Democrat Tony Evers, published a letter Sunday urging President Donald Trump to "reconsider" a planned campaign stop in Kenosha.

"Now is not the time for divisiveness," Evers wrote. "Now is not the time for elected officials to ignore armed militants and out-of-state instigators who want to contribute to our anguish."

But on Tuesday, President Trump went to Kenosha anyway — and so did former Vice President and the Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

People in Wisconsin are suggesting Evers should've asked both candidates to hold off.

Evers told NPR's Noel King that he did. The governor said when he found out about Biden's plans, he spoke directly to the nominee's staff, and eventually to Biden about his concerns. Evers says he asked both candidates to consider the impact of campaigning on the community.

Here are excerpts from the Morning Edition conversation.

You called for a special legislative session on Monday to deal with the problem of police violence. The Republican-held state legislature opened and closed the special session in about 30 seconds without debate. What's your next move?

Well, we aren't giving up.

I certainly I know there are some Republican legislators that have an interest in this topic. I've talked to many of them. And this is just the first step. If we can't get the first step, we will not be able to get to a place we want. It's all about transparency and accountability. We will continue to work with legislative leaders to get them to that point.

What do you say to black residents of your city who say the Democrats just haven't done much for us?

I'm not going to sit back and say, "well, the Republicans aren't going to help us." But that's, that's part of the problem. They're in the majority of the legislature.

But we cannot give up. That's the issue. We have proposals on the table. We have proposals from the Republicans that that they're interested in. So let's get together. This isn't rocket science. I know we have to do it for the people in Kenosha, but we have to do it for people all across the state.

Starting in late May when George Floyd was killed and subsequently protested, did you, as a governor, have a plan for how you would handle something like this in Wisconsin? Did those events happening elsewhere in the country change the way you reacted after Jacob Blake was shot?

Well, certainly you never expected it but you have to be prepared, clearly. And we are always prepared. Our National Guard is ready and obviously, others are.

But we have to accomplish something and I keep calling it back to that. We, as leaders in the state, have to show progress on something as it relates to this issue.

And that's why I was very hopeful around the special session. And that's why I'm still hopeful that we will get something done before the end of the calendar year.

Listen to the interview by clicking the audio button above.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

When a city is in the middle of a tragedy, who is welcome to visit? President Trump and Joe Biden were both in Kenosha, Wis., this week. That city's been torn since a police officer shot a Black man in the back and a teenager allegedly killed two people who were protesting that shooting. Emma Swain (ph) went to school in Kenosha; she now lives in Milwaukee. And she is upset about what she sees as political visits.

EMMA SWAIN: My beef specifically is with anyone who comes here looking at it as, like, another campaign stop or another way to push their political agenda in any way. There are actual people here that are being hurt.

KING: Wisconsin's governor, Tony Evers, wrote a public letter asking President Trump not to come. Some of his constituents said he should have also asked Joe Biden not to come. The governor told me yesterday he actually did ask Biden to stay away.

TONY EVERS: I wrote that letter to President Trump, and candidate Trump decided to come. When Joseph Biden decided to come to Kenosha, I didn't have a chance to write the letter because I found out late in the game. So when I talked to his staff and then himself, I made it very clear that both of those issues are appropriate for both of them to consider.

KING: Governor Evers, you called for a special legislative session earlier this week on Monday to deal with the problem in Wisconsin of police violence. The Republican-held state legislature opened and closed that session in about 30 seconds without any debate. You, it would seem, are trying to address this problem. What is your next move?

EVERS: Well, we aren't giving up. Certainly, I know there are some Republican legislators that have an interest in this topic. I've talked to many of them. And they're - you know, this is just a first step. If we can't get the first step, we will not be able to get to a place we want. It's all about transparency and accountability. We will continue to work with legislative leaders to get them to that point. I know people in the state want this. Polling shows that. And frankly, I've also talked to law enforcement officials, and some of them are in favor of some of them, and some of them are not. At the end of the day, people expect that and I anticipate that the legislature will come in session sometime in the near future. But we have to keep the pressure on.

KING: NPR has had reporters in Kenosha and in Milwaukee. We've been talking to Black voters, other news outlets have been talking to Black voters who say very openly that they think the Democrats take their votes for granted and then fail to deliver on their promises. What do you say to Black residents who say the Democrats just haven't done much for us?

EVERS: Yeah. And I'm not going to sit back and say, well, the Republicans aren't going to help us. But that's part of the problem. They're in the majority in the legislature. But we cannot give up. That's the issue. We have proposals on the table. We have proposals from the Republicans that they're interested in. So let's get together. This isn't rocket science. I know we have to do it for the people in Kenosha, but we have to do it for people all across the state.

KING: Last question for you before I let you go - we have seen police shootings, police killings, followed by protests similar to what happened in Kenosha happen all across the country this summer. We've seen great attention paid to those killings. As you watch that unfold starting in about late May after George Floyd was killed, did you as governor have a plan for how you would handle something like this happening in Wisconsin? Did those events happening elsewhere in the country change the way you reacted after Jacob Blake was shot?

EVERS: Well, certainly, you never expect it. But you have to be prepared, clearly. And we are always prepared. Our National Guard is ready, and obviously others are. But we have to accomplish something. And I keep going back to that. We as leaders in the state have to show progress on something as it relates to this issue. And that's why I was very hopeful around the special session, and that's why I'm still hopeful that we will get something done before the end of the calendar year.

KING: Governor Evers, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate your time.

EVERS: Thank you.

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