Changes to Bail System do not Prevent Crime

Friday, January 7, 2022

Michelle Velasquez,
Arthur Heitzer,

The NLG Milwaukee Chapter continues to express our heartfelt sympathy to those who were harmed and lost loved ones during the Waukesha Christmas Parade. We hope that Waukesha’s community can find comfort in the days that come. 

Since the violent event and the arrest of the suspect, we recognize our collective need to search for meaning and identify any means by which so many deaths and injuries could have been prevented. This has included journalistic rehashing of the suspect’s previous contact with the criminal justice system, as well as commentary from Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.1 The narrative that is being suggested is that the accused, Darrell Brooks, previously had bail that was set too low, and that a higher cash bail could have prevented this particular event. It is tempting to follow this train of logic, but it is also very dangerous as we seek to maintain our collective constitutionally enshrined rights and freedoms, and strive for true safety and security. 

The NLG Milwaukee Chapter wants to be clear: changes to the bail system do not prevent crime. More comprehensive mental health services, social services, employment opportunities, educational opportunities, and stable housing are the only proven routes to a safer and more secure society. It is easy for politicians to point to policies around cash bail as quick solutions, but these suggestions are dishonest over-simplifications that make it seem like they are doing something about crime when really, they are just putting on a show without actually investing in measures that make our communities safer. In a recent statement, State Senator Van Wanggaard (R) noted: “In the last 30 years, the law hasn’t been a problem and there have been no issues. Rushing to change any law based on a single event or incident is never a good idea.” While not about the suggested changes to the Wisconsin Constitution’s bail provisions, we concur with this opinion and the underlying sentiment. We also want to underline how disrespectful it would be to those who have suffered in Waukesha, as a change to the bail system we have in place will not lead to the robust safety and security we seek. 

It also bears recognizing that cash bail is a notoriously unequal system that impacts Black, brown and poor citizens much more heavily than others. The purpose of cash bail is not to prevent future crimes, but to ensure that individuals accused of crimes make all of their court appearances. If Milwaukee County is committed to our collective well-being, it can allocate resources that will support those comprehensive services that save lives. The county can also address our beleaguered criminal justice system, in which attorneys have too many cases and rush as their clients sit behind bars waiting for trials. The Constitution guarantees a right to a speedy trial to all people who are accused of crimes, but this right has severely eroded during the COVID-19 pandemic – particularly in Milwaukee County, where there are still hundreds of people sitting in custody waiting for their trial date. Many of those individuals have sat in custody much longer than §971.10 allows. Solutions that fall short of addressing these areas concretely would only be political theater to distract us from what it takes to achieve true safety and security. 

1 District Attorney Chisholm has stated that the bail requested was inappropriate and that the charging ADA, Michelle Grasso, made an error when recommending $1,000. However, the Pretrial Risk Assessment recommends “Financial” and a supervision level, not a specific dollar amount. Both the ADA and the Court followed the recommendations with level 5 monitoring and a financial component.

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Rittenhouse Case Cannot Be Allowed to Embolden More White Vigilantism

Joint statement from the National Lawyers Guild of Milwaukee and Rid Racism Milwaukee:

People across the globe have watched with deep concern since August 25, 2020 when Kyle Rittenhouse killed two men until this month when he was put on trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His murderous actions have been endorsed by a well-funded campaign to raise him to hero status. This campaign threatens to dangerously normalize armed attacks on Black Lives Matter and allied demonstrators, and also to embolden white vigilantes to use life-threatening violence.

Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old at the time of the shooting, traveled from Antioch, IL, to Kenosha, WI, where he used an AR-15 ArmaLite rifle to join a group of vigilantes claiming to react to the unrest in Kenosha. Local protests began after the shooting of Jacob Blake seven times in the back by a white police officer. It is undisputed that Rittenhouse shot three people on August 25, 2020, seriously wounding one and killing two others. Among the vigilantes and police present that night, Rittenhouse was the only person who killed anyone during those protests. However, other so-called “militia” came with a large variety of weapons,  allegedly to protect property; and the FBI separately arrested highly armed out-of-state white “militia” men who came to Kenosha with a “stockpile” of weapons with the asserted intention to both “loot and possibly pick people off.”    

In various videos from the evening, Rittenhouse was seen repeatedly telling others that he came to provide medical assistance, falsely claiming that he was an EMT. While all were in violation of the night’s local curfew, it is disturbing to see the videos showing Rittenhouse and other heavily-armed vigilantes being welcomed by local law enforcement. This acceptance of lawlessness by predominantly white gangs violating a curfew and in some cases illegally carrying firearms, demonstrates a problematic double standard. Meanwhile, perceived Black Lives Matter supporters were being told to leave, and/or being rounded up off the streets merely for being there.  

The specter of self-deputized white citizens harming and killing Black civilians has terrified our communities for centuries. In 2012, Milwaukee County grieved the loss of 16-year-old Corey Stingley in West Allis, a Black high school student who was confronted and choked to death by a group of white men after a possible shoplifting attempt. None of his killers were charged. Vigilantism and the self-deputization of white civilians who then wield violence against Black citizens is not limited to Wisconsin. While the Rittenhouse trial unfolds in Kenosha, three men are on trial for the murder of jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, in Georgia. They claim they were performing a “citizen’s arrest” and accused Arbery of stealing, though there is no evidence of this. And many of us are familiar with the tragic 2012 death of Trayvon Martin who was murdered by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed to be part of a community watch, and followed and killed Martin even after being told by a police dispatcher to disengage and go home. Because of the interpretation of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, Zimmerman was also ultimately acquitted after arguing that he killed Martin in self-defense.

These cases are disgustingly similar: there would have been no deaths had the killers not been acting as vigilantes.  All three shooters claimed self-defense against their victims; yet, not one of those they killed displayed deadly weapons during the altercations.   One need only think back to our nation’s shameful history of lynchings, with mobs of white people taking the law into their own hands, to know that we are walking a bloody path that threatens democracy and racial justice.  

We must stand up against the growing threat of white vigilantes and armed mobs cosplaying a “militia.” They are emboldened by the lack of timely and vigorous prosecutions against them in such cases, and even seem to be tolerated and sometimes encouraged by law enforcement. We must carefully review the relevant laws that already exist, and see how they are being applied. Police must not explicitly or implicitly endorse vigilantism. Above all, we must insist that human rights and life must be protected and honored above property interests, not the other way around.


The Steering Committee of the National Lawyers Guild of Milwaukee,
and the Board of Rid Racism Milwaukee

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Choosing Between Groups Who Need Help is Not Necessary: Statement from Milwaukee NLG

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Friday, September 17, 2021

By Emilio DeTorre, Milwaukee Turners; Shannon Ross, The Community; and Molly Collins, Felmers Chaney Advocacy Board

There is currently a conversation happening about closing and demolishing the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center and using that space to open a type 1 youth facility to finally deliver on the legislature’s promise to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Youth prisons.  We think this is a false choice Milwaukee shouldn’t have to make.  We believe that it is possible to find a site for the youth facility, in or near the city of Milwaukee, and that our community and political leaders can agree on a location that isn’t at the expense of another important service.

It is absolutely critical that we close the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons.  The children who are there need to be in smaller facilities, closer to their families and communities, rather than more than four hours north, where they can’t receive the help they need. Because of state law requiring the existence of a type 1 facility, we can’t close that prison without opening a new one. But we don’t need to close the Chaney center to do so.

The Chaney Center provides critical pre-release services, with 100 beds for men returning to our community from prison.  While people are there, they can get substance abuse or mental health treatment, find employment and housing, and be in a supportive environment while they get back on their feet. These are essential services and help people rejoin our community and improve their success and healthy connection to their families and neighborhoods, which makes us all safer.

More people in the Wisconsin prison system return to Milwaukee county than any other county in the state. The Chaney Center allows them to successfully reintegrate through a variety of programs designed to produce successful reentry into the city.  This includes providing comprehensive fatherhood programming, family support within proximity of their families, interactive off-site events, public speaking and volunteering opportunities in the community, custom employment prospects, and a variety of substance abuse and mental health treatment offerings. One man who is currently there is beginning a career in Computer Automated Drafting, which he learned during his sentence. Opportunities like this that are difficult to impossible at other work centers, yet they are exactly what we need for returning citizens so they can have the sustainable structure that will make them not only refrain from crime upon release, but become assets and leaders in Milwaukee.

Both Governor Evers and former Governor Walker called for the closing of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons.  The Wisconsin State legislature has failed to put the appropriate money in the budget to create an alternative to this violent site that was found to be unsafe for children and adults, and that neglected to provide the necessary social or educational services for the children in the state’s care.

The Chaney Center has long been considered by men who resided there to offer the best support for a successful return to Milwaukee in contrast to the state’s other facilities. To remove it in order to provide a safer and improved environment for incarcerated children is a ridiculous trade off, and one for which there exists many other alternatives.  We do not believe that Milwaukee has no commercial or public real estate that can be developed into a more supportive and appropriate environment for our children. We do not believe that the Chaney Center must be destroyed to offer a successful local alternative for Lincoln Hills.

We should not reduce the number of available pre-release beds in our community because we can’t agree on a suitable location for a new youth facility.  We have to do better and serve both groups of people who need help.  

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NLG on Wisconsin Public Radio: Art Heitzer and Sameena Mulla Join Attorney Kimberley Motley to Discuss What Happens Next in the Charging of Former Police Officer Joseph Mensah

Photo from outside the courtroom on July 28, courtesy of Art Heitzer.

After Milwaukee Judge Glenn Yamahiro found probable cause exists to charge former Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah in the murder of Jay Anderson Jr, Milwaukee NLG issued a statement applauding the decision.

WPR invited Attorney Kimberley Motley and members of Milwaukee NLG Art Heitzer and Sameena Mulla to discuss what happens next. Listen to the audio from their appearance here.

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Testimony of the Milwaukee NLG Opposing Wisconsin Assembly Bill 411 and Senate Bill 411

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August 10, 2021

WrittenTestimony of the National Lawyers Guild Milwaukee Chapter
In Opposition to Assembly Bill 411 and Senate Bill 411

In front of the joint hearing of the Assembly and Senate Education Committees

Dear Chair Darling, Chair Thiesfeldt, and members of both committees, 

We write to oppose Assembly Bill and Senate Bill 411. No one favors teaching stereotypes based on race or sex, and it would be inappropriate to give racist or sexist ideas a platform in our schoolrooms, but this is not what the bill is seeking to suppress. The concepts disallowed in the bill would create a slippery slope that would place many restrictions on the honest efforts of teachers to engage students in a thoughtful way in our country’s history.  

There is voluminous scholarship highlighting that throughout human and U.S. history, race, class, and sex are key indicators of power – whether political, social or economic. For example, if a state legislature, made up of mostly white men, attempts to control education and instruction, they will do so with their worldview in mind. Absent input from a wide community of educators, diverse in their race, class, and sex, this bill amounts to political fascism. In the panoply of curricular and pedagogical approaches, academic and scientific rigor determine what teachings are most accurate, not the uninformed or misinformed opinions of elected officials.

The intent of these bills is broadly to protect white men’s feelings, and it seems likely that the stereotypes that would be challenged under this potential framework are those that identify inequities in the systems that benefit white people and say that America isn’t a strict meritocracy – that white privilege exists and institutional and structural racism also exist. These decisions would specifically put the feelings and concerns of white men above those from women and students of color. The bill creates a scenario in which teachers delivering education about inequality in the past and its relationship to inequality in the present accused of participating in “reverse discrimination” because it would make white students feel bad (and would be prohibited by these bills).  As society has moved away from the ‘colorblind’ ideas of the 80s and 90s, we have recognized that people have different experiences of the world that are influenced by their race, class or gender and to ignore those is to not treat people as fully human.  12(d) seems to suggest we go back to this ‘colorblind’ ideal, which we have grown past.  

It is important for scientists and lay people to identify how circumstances and people are impacted by their environment. To pretend that historical and contemporary injustices are not open to honest, rigorous critique is a gross embrace of fiction and make believe. This bill seeks to create legislation that expensively forces schools across our state to onerously post curricula, and then open themselves up to frivolous and random attacks by the public based on uninformed opinions. This is dangerous to our education system and the healthy social development of our children. Creating this unjust and unfunded mandate will also allow the government to withhold ten percent of the school system’s budget without outlining even the broadest of processes to investigate or guide these threatened cuts.  It offends both in its content and the integrity of the policymaking process. 

This bill is a thinly veiled effort to intimidate educators, and expose them to lawsuits by people not informed enough to know what should be taught and how. The bill is not seeking to suppress the teaching of racism and sexism.   This legislation is not necessary, helpful, or thoughtful, so please vote no on AB/SB 411. Thank you.

  1. FAQs on Bills Restricting the Teaching of History:
  1. A Lesson on Critical Race Theory: 

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Milwaukee National Lawyers Guild Applauds Charging Decision in the Murder of Jay Anderson

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The Milwaukee National Lawyers Guild applauds yesterday’s decision to charge former Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah in the murder of Jay Anderson, Jr. The Guild commends Mr. Anderson’s family for their courageous and painful battle to seek justice for their son. Guild Steering Committee member Sameena Mulla commented, “Today’s decision would not be possible without the steadfastness of Mr. Anderson’s family, nor would it have been possible without the outstanding work of Atty. Kimberley Motley. It is the Guild’s opinion that since February, Atty. Motley has built a thorough and irrefutable case demonstrating Joseph Mensah’s responsibility for the death of Mr. Anderson.”

Guild members attended all of the hearings in this case, and were impressed with the careful way in which Atty. Motley presented the evidence and examined witnesses, and with Judge Glenn Yamahiro’s judicious consideration and detailed attention. It is rare to see judges make courageous decisions towards justice in such cases. What emerged during the hearings was a picture of an officer whose conduct repeatedly contravened standard police operating procedures. The hearings also raised serious questions about the improper interference of the subject Wauwatosa Police Department in the subsequent investigation by the Milwaukee Police Department, and the inadequate and superficial investigations by the MPD and then the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, which were charged with the serious duty of determining whether this homicide was legally justified. Had Mr. Anderson’s family not pursued this strategy with Atty. Motley, the failures of Joseph Mensah, and of the law enforcement agencies which claimed to investigate, would not have come to light. 

Atty. Ramon Valdez, Guild Steering Committee member, noted that “The sheer depth and breadth of the evidence Atty. Motley brought before the court highlighted both Joseph Mensah’s questionable choices, and the many holes in the investigations and procedures by the agencies we have entrusted to hold police accountable.”

The Guild also asserted that efforts to properly hold individual police officers accountable in citizen deaths are an absolute priority, and that these should be coupled with efforts to systematically interrogate the professional culture of police departments that appear to foster and even condone improper behavior when they refuse to thoroughly investigate. 

Emilio De Torre, Guild Steering Committee member, commented, “We always hear about police who are involved in civilian deaths as ‘bad apples,’ but the whole saying is ‘one bad apple spoils the barrel.’ Holding one officer accountable is an important first step, but there is a bigger picture here that needs to be addressed.”

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July 28 at 10AM: See & Hear Judge Yamahiro’s decision on issuing criminal charges against Joseph Mensah for the fatal shooting of Jay Anderson

Photo via Fox 6

July 28, Wednesday, 10am

See & hear Judge Yamahiro’s decision on issuing criminal charges against Joseph Mensah for the fatal shooting of Jay Anderson (family & supporters hope to pack the court in Room G 55 of the Milw. County Criminal Justice Facility at  949 N 9th St., at W State St., Milwaukee, WI 53233) or online (at:; please note that the page may be muted when you first join and you will have to unmute in order to hear the court.) To view Atty. Motley’s closing argument on why charges should be issued against Mensah, see , You can also see Isaiah Holmes’ reporting in the Wisconsin Examiner on the preceding evidentiary sessions. 

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NLG Milwaukee Statement Opposing SJR 2 Bail Resolution

January 9, 2023

Testimony of the National Lawyers Guild of Milwaukee
Opposing Senate Joint Resolution 2
Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety

Dear Chair Wanggard and members of the committee, 

The National Lawyers Guild of Milwaukee Opposes SJR 2/ AJR 107 (Bail resolution)

While it is tempting to think that SJR 2/AJR 107 will result in greater public safety, there are already tools available to the court to protect the public from certain violent offenders who the court fears will cause others serious bodily injury or intimidate witnesses.  SJR 2 and AJR 107, the proposed constitutional amendment, adds measures that weaken our constitution by fostering the presumption of guilt, when the constitution demands the presumption of innocence. The amendment also creates financial loopholes to allow more wealthy individuals to use their resources to let them avoid pretrial detention, while forcing less resourced people to be punished by using exorbitant bail as a means to lock them up prior to trial.

The purpose of bail is to ensure someone appears in court.  The National Lawyers Guild of Milwaukee is against the weakening of the Wisconsin State Constitution through an amendment that showboats by creating unnecessary financial obstacles that claim to somehow make our residents safer. This is untrue and will only serve to disproportionately punish lower income people.  Pretrial detentions have a deep, destabilizing impact on people.  These detentions impose steep financial and personal costs on defendants, and increases their chances of being convicted, lengthens their average sentences, and increases their risk of engaging in future criminal activity.  Pretrial detentions should only be used when necessary to protect the community, and not as a regular procedure to punish people who have fewer economic resources.

For these reasons, the National Lawyers Guild of Milwaukee is against the adoption of SJR 2/AJR 107 and the proposed amendments. These policies will greatly increase the number of people detained pretrial who are presumed innocent and do not pose serious risks to the community.  They will also create a much greater cost to the public, and create a heavier burden on our already overcrowded and deadly  jails. It is not an exaggeration to state that they will essentially create a two-tiered justice system – one for the rich and one for the poor.  This is not what the Constitution was intended for, nor what the people of Wisconsin deserve. 


The National Lawyers Guild of Milwaukee

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Jay Anderson, Jr., John Doe Case to Resume May 4; Anderson Shot & Killed by then-Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah

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CBS 58 reported on this case on March 25, including testimony from Anderson’s girlfriend and a former Washington. DC, police detective. The detective stated that “There is no evidence that at the time he was shot that Mr. Anderson was lunging towards the gun” and that Mensah should be charged. You can watch their coverage here.

The concluding hearing is scheduled for May 4, starting at 9 AM, in room 635 of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Judge Glenn Yamahiro is presiding. Attorney Kim Motely, who presented during our April 1 event, will be giving evidence on why criminal charges should be brought against Joseph Mensah for his fatal shooting of Jay Anderson. You can see the hearing in person or online.

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What’s Wrong With the Wauwatosa Police Department?

The National Lawyers Guild – Milwaukee Chapter and the Milwaukee Turners hosted a presentation and panel with Attorney Kimberley Motley, Attorney Ramon Valdez and Sedan Smith.

Recorded April 1, 2021

All over the country Americans are wrestling with the suffering and trauma caused by racist – and all too frequently fatal – interactions between institutions like law enforcement and civilians. Some people who seem beholden to our status quo of white supremacy, and the infallibility of law enforcement, condemn the patriotism, morality and legality of even questioning the actions of the government or police during the aftermath of these events. Point in case, the Milwaukee National Lawyer’s Guild Facebook Group was taken down by Facebook last night because numerous people complained about the event – implying that this is somehow hate speech. [Note: Facebook reversed its decision on Thursday night, April 1st, w/o explanation or apology.]

You can watch the full presentation on YouTube here.

CBS 58 News covered the presentation; you can see their story here.

The Milwaukee Courier also featured the presentation in their weekly newspaper; you can see their coverage here.

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