Behind the headlines on the governor’s violence prevention funding

Tony Evers visits Milwaukee.

On October 13, governor Evers almost kind of started making an investment in alternatives to state violence in Milwaukee. He came here to announce $45 million from Wisconsin’s recovery act (ARPA) funds would go into “safer communities and violence prevention.” 

Unfortunately, as with his pardon announcements, this is another of his misleading headlines. Behind the headlines, nearly half ($20 million) of the allocated funds are going to supporting victim services through the department of justice. We know them from their work obstructing the release of old law prisoners. That is not violence prevention.

Survivors of violence (including families of people who do not survive) deserve support, and an office of victim services can do good and important work. But they are focused on reactions after violence has occurred, not prevention. They also tend to nurture feelings of vengeance and retribution, often taking the form of additional violence administered by the state.

Abolition philosophy has roots in the needs of survivors. Our guiding thinkers are women of color who’ve survived violence, like Ruthie Gilmore and Mariame Kaba. They recognize from personal experience the failure of the state’s retributive approach to justice. You don’t need to agree completely with these abolitionist ideas to recognize that the current manifestation of the office of victim services is predatory and retributive, rather than healing and transformative. At the very minimum, everyone can agree that it is not prevention, and giving it nearly 50% of the money in a violence prevention announcement is deceptive.

After his allocation to victim services, governor Evers gave $8 million to “support research, data collection, education, and community engagement efforts” through the comprehensive injury center at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). More research is also not violence prevention.

Tom Barrett rolling it out.

Reggie Moore, mayor Barrett, and the violence prevention people at MCW already did months of research and brought together the Blueprint for Peace, back in November 2017. Milwaukee doesn’t need to track and log and scrutinize violence in our communities, we need to interrupt it. The plans exist. They were made by a partnership between MCW, the city of Milwaukee’s office of violence prevention and the police deptartment (MPD). If these are bad plans, then paying the same people $8 million to make new plans is a terrible idea. What’s lacking is implementation, community involvement, and empowerment. 

For actual violence prevention, only $17 of Evers’ $45 million remains, and $10.4 million of it will go to “support violence project efforts statewide.” I’m not sure what “violence project efforts” are. Hopefully it’s a typo in the governor’s press release. Anyway, Governor Evers came to Milwaukee, the state’s largest, most heavily policed, economically unstable, and stigmatized city, to announce this $45 million investment into alleged violence prevention. He chose us as a backdrop, but also chose to only invest $6.6 out of $45 million in preventing violence specifically in Milwaukee.

That money is going to one place: the office of violence prevention. They may do good work while straddling absurd political tightropes, but they also partner with Milwaukee’s office of violence production (MPD). That might be why Milwaukee police went out of their way to praise the governor in response to his announcement. A more diverse allocation that isn’t tied to police would have been more effective.

This visit was Governor Evers’ second in as many weeks. He also came on October 6, to unveil more ARPA spending. That time he was putting recovery money into the pockets of business owners, a process he curiously also described as “violence prevention”. On that day, governor Evers was greeted to Milwaukee by gunfire. Someone coincidentally drove by shooting a block away and a few minutes before the governor’s money-for-businesses event was supposed to start. Clearly, this near-miss didn’t teach Evers to stop neglecting Milwaukee, because only a week later he came back to announce sending $38.4 million to prevent–or study, or talk about–violence elsewhere.

Fundamentally, businesses are not violence prevention. Businesses hurt people during the pandemic. COVID19 is both a biological and socioeconomic crisis. It is as much a problem of a virus ravaging our bodies as it is a crisis of capitalists and business owners ravaging our time and leveraging our safety for their profits. The people who suffered worst are essential workers, people put out of work, and people who were already economically precarious and socially marginalized before the pandemic hit. Business owners saw the crisis as an opportunity to capitalize on, exactly as Naomi Klein predicted in 2007’s The Shock Doctrine.

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Sociopaths fighting to ensure that when the world burns and floods simultaneously, they will have the privilege of dying last.

Of course, governor Evers believes he cannot directly support the hardest hit. He’s drunk on Milton Friedman’s kool-aid and convinced that the health and welfare of the Wisconsin’s working class is bad for “the economy”. Neoliberal economists tell us Wisconsin is experiencing a labor shortage because people are unwilling to expose themselves to the virus for the sake of low wages and bad working conditions. Labor unrest is on a serious rise across amerika, and economic stability for working families will prolong their ability to resist.

Threat of deprivation and danger has always been what forces people to go to work. By giving economic recovery money to bosses instead of workers, governor Evers shows that he wants us hard-up, driven back to working longer hours at lower pay. It will help bosses extract profits from our labor, and mediate our material existence in a way that is traceable and taxable by his government. Kicking some of that government money back to business owners is just icing on the cake.

Graffiti in Gordon Park, Milwauke, April 2020.

The same logic explains why the governor is giving so little violence prevention support directly to the people living among violence, among people hurting or desperate enough to resort to violence. He wants it to go through research institutions and agencies, who will mediate it and ensure that government-based solutions prevail. The government desperately wants us exclusively looking to them for salvation, even though they offer violence and drudgery.

An empowered and even briefly economically stable community might get on our feet, get our bearings about us, and reorient our priorities and dependencies around each other, not bosses, police, prisons, and other state agencies. We might break the grip of the billionaires on this dying planet.

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