Search the site
Our annual Gathering celebrates the legacy of America’s Black Holocaust Museum founder, Dr. James Cameron. In his honor, we bring together people from all corners of Greater Milwaukee for learning and fellowship.
The theme of this year’s event is “Let’s Face It: How Communities Remember and Repair Racial Trauma.”
MORNING SESSION: Open to Organizational Sponsors and the Public. Attendees see a sneak preview screening of the new documentary Always In Season. Immediately following the film, there will be an audience talkback with the film’s director. She will be joined on stage by experts from around the country and Greater Milwaukee who will briefly introduce their communities’ commemorative projects, then take questions and comments from the audience.
AFTERNOON SESSION: Open to Organizational Sponsors Only. Members of our co-sponsoring organizations attend the Founder’s Day Luncheon and Keynote Address, followed by intimate Roundtable Discussions with experts from across the country sharing restorative experiences from their communities.
All event proceeds provide essential funding for the community education programs of the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, including America’s Black Holocaust Museum.
The Foundation advances the work of civil rights pioneer, Dr. James Cameron, by preserving and sharing the African American experience as part of American history and culture, promoting interracial dialogue, and fostering repair and reconciliation.
Investment Requested $10,000
Investment Requested $5,000
Investment Requested $1,000
These opportunities are specific to the format of Gathering 2017 and may not be repeated in future years. Join the conversation and help Milwaukee learn from other communities’ strategies for promoting racial repair and reconciliation.
Exclusive Sponsorship – Investment Requested $2,500
Exclusive Sponsorship – Investment Requested $2,500
Exclusive Sponsorship – Investment Requested $1,500
Limited Inventory, 24 – Investment Requested $300
Thanks for joining with other organizations and individuals to invest in repair and reconciliation!
This event is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.
Johnny Ruffin reached into his wallet and pulled out $35…defiantly displaying most of the money he had to his name for anyone to see.
About 10 minutes earlier, Ruffin explained his financial plight to a Milwaukee Municipal Court judge who had none of it, telling him that he must pay $120, the last of the $1,200 in fines and fees that he had amassed over the last decade for various minor traffic and drug offenses.
“Tickets have just built up. I have been paying since 2005 and I still can’t believe I’m not caught up… every time I pay $60, $60, $60,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know how he’ll find $120.
The 35-year-old black man is no saint. But the two-time felon has been trying to make amends by working a full-time job at a gun factory and routinely making payments to the court system to avoid jail time, despite claiming that the amount he was told he still owed is inaccurate.
“A lot of the stuff they got me on wasn’t even me…” he said. “I’m locked into the system until I can get it all cleaned up. I’m going to be stuck for awhile. I’m chalking it up to the system.”
Ruffin’s situation is emblematic of the financial entanglement many poor black men have gotten themselves into with the city’s municipal judicial system, according to local experts who say the system criminalizes poverty by levying monetary penalties, driver’s license suspensions and ultimately jail time on defendants who do not have the means to pay their citations.
“This is a part of the cycle of poverty,” said John Pawasarat, director of the Employment and Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“It’s a pretty irresponsible way to do business if you’re a public body dealing with the citizens in your city. These people are on the fringe and this is the last thing they need,” said Pawasarat…
Despite the rampant poverty that grips Milwaukee’s inner city, citations that carry a relatively hefty fine are one of the city’s methods of choice to punish offenders for non-criminal infractions.
For instance, a disorderly conduct citation carries a fine of at least $200, which could amount to two-thirds of a weekly pay check for an individual who earns $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage for a full-time job. Defendants who are found guilty must pay a fine or face a suspended driver’s license or jail time.
According to court data obtained by NNS…the Milwaukee Police Department writes a disproportionate number of citations in some of the city’s poorest areas. Although only 12 percent of Milwaukee residents live in two of the city’s poorest ZIP codes…people in those ZIP codes received 17 percent of the 430,000 tickets written from 2011 to 2014.
The disparity in citations by income is also illustrated by comparing the number of tickets written in the 53206 ZIP code, where half the residents live in poverty, to the number written in the 53215 ZIP code, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where about a third of residents live in poverty, the same as the citywide average. Police wrote about one ticket for every four people in 53206 compared to one ticket for every 11 people in 53215 in 2014.
A typical day at the Milwaukee Municipal Court…begins when dozens of defendants…travel up to the courtrooms. Once on the second floor, they file through a security checkpoint, where they place their metal items into a plastic bin and walk through a metal detector…
Moments later those assembled in the Branch 2 courtroom rise to their feet as Judge Derek Mosley strolls in and takes his seat in front and high above the court. For several hours, he and two other judges work their way through a long docket of cases, hearing the constant drumbeat of financial despair on the part of many defendants.
“I get it. I get it,” Mosley said, back in his chamber… “It starts with jobs. The problem we have is that the individuals getting cited probably wouldn’t be getting cited if they had employment… and were stakeholders in the community…”
With this in mind, judges try to incentivize employment by waiving fines for defendants who come back to court with proof that they got a job or enrolled in school.
“The court is not going to get any money, but who cares?” Mosley said. “It reduces recidivism because (employed defendants) don’t come back. I have no control over bringing businesses to Milwaukee…but I can try to get people to jobs to better themselves.”
Some violations directly involve victims…while others are victimless crimes… Mosley said he tries to strike a fine balance between fairness for poor defendants and justice for victims, many of whom are also poor and minority.
“When I get an assault and battery from the 53206 ZIP code, the defendant and the victim look exactly the same,” Mosley said. “I look at the back of the ticket and look at the victim (many of whom) are black or Mexican and poor. It’s hard for me to tell the victim of an assault and battery that (the defendant) lives in the 06 zip code and I have to help them out.”
Even if defendants do not plan to fight their cases, Mosley implores them to come to court, where they can make arrangements to pay their obligations and where he can reduce fines and demerit points…
He said, however, that defendants typically fear the court system and believe that if they show up, they will be taken into custody if they have a municipal warrant against them.
“We have a policy in municipal court that if you walk in, you will walk out,” Mosley said, noting that judges will lift all warrants against individuals if they pay $20 toward their fines, regardless of how much they owe…
Police and local lawmakers have begun to address some of the city’s citation practices for minor, nonviolent infractions. Police officials have said they’ve made a concerted effort not to ticket for minor traffic offenses over the last few years, decreasing the overall number of tickets written by 46 percent from 2011 to 2014. In addition, the Milwaukee Common Council significantly slashed the fine for possessing a small amount of marijuana.
“One of the issues that continues to come up is the injustice many people feel who live in communities that are overly policed and where ordinances and laws are stringently enforced,” said Ald. Ashanti Hamilton… “We have pretty much criminalized where you live and what you look like.”
The intersection between race, poverty and the local judicial system has been a concern of the Justice Initiatives Institute…which recently published a report examining defendants who were jailed after they failed to appear in court and pay their fines.
The report examined the economic and demographic characteristics of defendants processed through a courtroom in the county jail separate from the main court facility in the Milwaukee Police Department, from 2008 to 2013. It studied 26,000 defendants, most of whom were arrested on a municipal warrant after not paying a citation and spending two or three days in jail on each occasion, earning time served, which reduces the amount of money owed for a fine.
The study found about 85 percent never paid anything on their citations; about two-thirds of those jailed did not have a job. Of those who were employed, 40 percent worked low-paying jobs. Black men had seven times as many cases associated with citations as white men.
“The trends in the unemployment rates in Milwaukee mirrored the trends in how people were appearing in our study. When the unemployment rates went up, the number of people in our study…was going up. So it’s linked to poverty,” said Marilyn Walczak…
According to court officials, the city’s jailing policy changed in May 2012. Before the change, defendants for the most part were eligible to be released on a recognizance bond when the first warrant was issued for not paying their fines. When subsequent warrants were issued, they were held until they paid a cash bond. Now defendants are eligible for a signature bond the first three times they are taken into custody on a warrant for not paying their fines…
The city spent more than $10 million to jail the 26,000 defendants for not paying about $5.7 million they owed from 2008 to 2013…
The court itself earns a profit each year, according to a cost-benefit document drafted by the city’s budget office in November 2014. The document showed that the court earned a net of between $1.5 and $2.8 million each year from 2009 to 2013, although that does not take into account several direct and indirect costs such as expenses associated with paying for collections, bailiffs and city attorneys.
“Our revenue goes into the city’s general fund,” Islo said, noting that the money from citations helps fund city departments that do not generate revenue on their own.
The city’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee recently passed a resolution asking for the State of Wisconsin to allow the city to apply a surcharge on each municipal fine. The funds would pay to store data from police-worn body cameras, which officials expect to cost $1.7 million.
“The people you are taking the money from… very often do not have the financial resources to pay their fines,” said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin…
State law allows for defendants to apply for an indigence determination and makes available community service and alternative sanctions rather than monetary penalties to those who cannot pay.
But very few defendants take advantage of these alternatives. In the impoverished 53206 ZIP code, only 723 defendants who received 41,900 citations from 2011 to 2014 were offered and agreed to alternative sanctions…
“I have seen instances in Milwaukee where people are not advised and…no effort is made to communicate with them about their ability to pay or alternatives [available] to them if they can’t pay,” said James Gramling, a former Milwaukee Municipal Court judge…
Another sign that defendants do not know their rights is that only 994 of 434,463 citations written were adjudicated in a court trial from 2011 to 2014. Part of the reason for this may be the wording on the citation itself…
The citation doesn’t make it clear that defendants have the right to appear to contest the charge against them, added Walczak…
“When you are first given a ticket, it says that you don’t have to appear,” she said. “But what that means is that if you want to admit you’re wrong and pay the ticket, you don’t have to appear and you can just send your money in. But I don’t think people understand that.”
Walczak also blames the fact that there is no online form designated solely for defendants who want to apply for an indigence determination. There is a form to apply to make installment payments. In addition, an informational pamphlet available in court makes no mention of alternative sanctions for people who are indigent, although a third of the city’s residents live in poverty.
Court officials “don’t take time to fairly and aggressively determine ability to pay. They put the burden of that on the defendant,” she said. “If the (defendant) doesn’t bring it up in court, they don’t bring it up.”
Read the full article here.
Read more Breaking News here.