The Senate voted 19-14 along party lines to expand the circumstances under which someone in police custody can be strip searched as Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, ripped her colleagues for a move she said would lead to additional abuses of African-American men.
Now, other than those arrested for felonies and some misdemeanors, someone has to be facing detainment of at least 12 hours before police can conduct a strip search. SB 248 would drop the 12-hour requirement.
Taylor, D-Milwaukee, recounted how her 16-year-old son, Isaiah, was stopped, patted down and put in the back of a squad car last month while delivering a turkey to a needy family in their neighborhood. Police have called their actions lawful, but Taylor used it as an example of how African-Americans face different standards than others with law enforcement.
She also said existing strip search policies are already being abused, citing a $5 million settlement the Milwaukee Common Council approved this week with 74 African-American residents who said they were subjected to illegal strip searches and cavity searches. It is part of a settlement covering more than a dozen federal civil rights suits filed against the city over the searches.
“I’m not some angry black woman saying something that’s not true,” said Taylor, who tried to amend the bill to exempt Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. “I’m speaking truth to power, and I know it’s uncomfortable. Whether you realize it, unintended consequences of your legislation is what leads to the disparities.”
But bill author Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, is about making sure law enforcement can conduct a search when there is suspicion there are weapons or drugs. She said the bill also removes "real challenges" and "costly mandates" for county jails.
"It ensures safety," Harsdorf said, "not only of jail staff, but also the other inmates."
Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, the only other black member of the chamber, said her colleagues likely tire of hearing her and Taylor talk about race and color regularly as they bring up issues in Milwaukee. She started to apologize before catching herself.
“I’m tired of apologizing for it,” said Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee. “I’m African-American, I see these things happening in our community, and it’s happening largely to African-American males.”