By Dwayne Muhammad
Several state Republican legislators held a news conference recently to announce eight proposed bipartisan bills totaling $3.7 million to help address the homeless issue in Wisconsin.
That’s the good news.
The bad news: no African American or Latino Democratic state legislators were invited to the news conference to help share the good news, including state Sen. Lena Taylor, which didn’t set well with her, especially since the announcement was made—unbeknownst to her—in her fourth senate district at the offices of Pathfinders, 4200 N. Holton Ave.
“If we want to be bipartisan, where are the Milwaukee legislators? It is unacceptable,”
Taylor said after “crashing” the news conference with the Original Black Panthers upon learning Republican state lawmakers had “hijacked” her district to make the announcement.
The senator ripped the GOP legislators for their lack of transparency. “Don’t act as if I’m up in Madison or my (Democratic) colleagues, and the Black Milwaukee caucus—and we (aren’t doing) the work.”
Taylor went on to explain to those present at the news conference she’s been working on the homeless issue since the last state budget cycle, but in a way that is more comprehensive.
“Individuals (in the legislature) looked at the motion and looked around and didn’t move it forward,” claimed
Taylor. “So here were are and you move something forward without us.”
In a press statement released later that same day of the news conference, Taylor said she was glad the issue of homelessness was finally on the GOP’s radar. “I am encouraged that some of their plans include similar language or concepts to those we have suggested in the past,” the senator’s statement read. “We need real dollars and not cosmetic funding to tackle this problem.
“We lag behind so many other states in the money, programing and necessary legislative commitment to change homelessness in the state. I look forward to finding common ground and action on these issues.”
But King Rick, the head of the Panthers, was a little more blunt at the news conference.
“How dare you come into our community and don’t inviteour legislators!” King Rick said. “This is an insult to us. I see nothing but Republicans here. Where are the Democrats? The Republican Party doesn’t care about Black people or Brown people. (If you did) you’d have Senator Taylor up there (at the podium with them) and other African Americans up there.”
Like Taylor, the grass roots organization found out through the grapevine about the news conference and came to make their presence known and blast the GOP lawmakers for the clandestine way they announced legislation that would have a major impact on Black and Brown communities. The Black Panther leader even asked the GOP legislators why they refused to have Colin Kaepernick on the state’s Black History Month resolution?
A former NFL quarterback who played for the San Francisco 49ers—leading them to a Super Bowl appearance, Kaepernick created national controversy and discussion in 2016 when he began kneeling during the National Anthem before games to protest racial injustice, especially the fatal shootings of African Americans by police officers.
Three weeks ago, state Republican legislators forced Black Democratic legislators to remove Kaepernick’s name from the resolution, which honored prominent Black Americans. The majority numbers Republicans hold in the Assembly and Senate gave them the leverage to block passage of the resolution until the former quarterback’s name was removed. Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee.
“Homelessness is a problem,” King Rick continued, “but so is the socio-economic conditions that plague Black people and Brown people. You aren’t addressing that. The GOP is the problem, because you don’t respect people of color. The GOP cares about Republicans. You don’t choose our leaders. We choose our leaders.”
Before Taylor and King Rick confronted them, the Republican lawmakers outlined the contents of the bills— from eight state agencies—would give the homeless an advocate and a “spot” at the table. Republican State Rep.
Jesse Rodriquez said the legislation will also help the homeless find employment. “When people find employment, they are significantly less likely to be homeless,” said Rodriguez, who stressed the ultimate goal is ending homelessness in Wisconsin, adding the state Assembly and Senate were “doubling our investment,” and cited that Gov. Tony Evers is willing to work in this area.
Rafael Acevedo, Jr., a member of the statewide council on homelessness, said the bills would allow the homeless in Milwaukee and throughout the state to find permanent housing. “Permanent housing ends homelessness,” he said.
Tim Baack, president and CEO of Pathfinders acknowledged Wisconsin has a “very poor track record” when it comes to making a meaningful investment of funding and resources to address the issue.