Wisconsin State Journal, June 18

Trial shows need for cop cameras in Madison

Madison should pay close attention to the Milwaukee trial of a former police officer in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith.

Body cameras on the police who chased Smith from a traffic stop last fall provided the key video evidence leading to a charge of first-degree reckless homicide.

Had the same incident occurred here in Madison — or any other Wisconsin community without cameras on police uniforms — the officer almost certainly would not have been charged. That's because the video images would not exist.

Instead, the public and court system would have to rely heavily on police accounts of what happened.

That's not the case in Milwaukee, which has wisely equipped his patrol officers with body cameras.

Footage from cameras on former Milwaukee Police Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown and a fellow officer show a foot pursuit after a traffic stop. Smith runs while carrying a gun and is shot in the arm while throwing his weapon over a fence. He's shot a second time in the chest less than two seconds later. The entire encounter from the start of the chase lasts 12 seconds.

Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm calls the video footage "the most essential evidence" in the ongoing trial. He faults Heaggan-Brown for the second shot, just after Smith had tossed his handgun.

But Heaggan-Brown's lawyers say he thought in that split second Smith was reaching for another weapon in his waistband, and a police trainer will testify that officers are taught to assume a suspect with a gun is likely to have another weapon.

Both Heaggan-Brown and Smith are black and lived in the same neighborhood where the fatal shooting occurred. It prompted two nights of protests, including rocks hurled at officers, and the burning of eight businesses and a police car.

A jury could decide the fate of Heaggan-Brown, 25, this week.

The body camera footage may not definitively settle what happened or why. But it provides a neutral and far more clear view of the events leading up to Smith's death than conflicting testimony from participants and witnesses.

Madison has had several disputed police shootings in recent years, none of which led to criminal charges against officers. That could be because the officers were acting appropriately. Or it could be that clear evidence didn't exist to show misconduct.

In either case, police cameras have been shown to improve the behavior of both police and the public, according to a federal task force on modern policing. Complaints against officers tend to fall when they wear cameras, as does use of force.

Some Madison City Council members have claimed the cameras are too expensive. But a manufacturer has offered the city a free trial. Some aldermen fear the cameras could violate people's privacy, but Wisconsin's open records law already balances privacy against the public good before video is released.

Some critics worry cameras will somehow hurt domestic abuse victims or immigrants. But the leading advocacy group for battered women has endorsed police cameras, and Latino leaders who recently met with the State Journal editorial board didn't object to them.

Madison should adopt this relatively simple technology to get to the truth of controversial police encounters.


The Capital Times, June 14

Wisconsin needs to elect leaders who know health care is a right

Vice President Mike Pence was in Milwaukee Saturday, June 10, on another failed mission to defend the assault on health care protections by President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Pence offered no reassurances about the federal plan. Rather, he suggested that hope will be found in the states.

Pence announced that Trump "believes in states-based solutions" for Medicare and Medicaid. The vice president announced that the administration wants states to make their own choices about how to ensure that people are cared for.

"Under this administration, (Wisconsin Gov. Scott) Walker will be able to bring Wisconsin solutions to meet the unique health care challenges facing the people of Wisconsin," said Pence.

The problem, of course, is that Walker is a rigid conservative who has always been on the wrong side of debates about expanding access to health care. As The Associated Press noted, "Wisconsin was among the states that rejected federal money to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare and Pence praised Walker for taking a different path. Wisconsin took a hybrid approach of tightening income eligibility for Medicaid to only those at the poverty level or below. Those making more than poverty were forced to purchase subsidized insurance through the marketplace."

In other words, Walker fails to recognize what President Harry Truman pointed out decades ago: "The principal reason why people do not receive the care they need is that they cannot afford to pay for it on an individual basis at the time they need it. This is true not only for needy persons. It is also true for a large proportion of normally self-supporting persons."

Walker also fails to recognize what Pope Francis tells us: "Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege."

As such, Pence's announcement — made with Wisconsin's governor at his side — should be read less as a promise than a threat.

The only shred of encouragement in Pence's proposal might be this: By suggesting that the states will have significant flexibility with regard to health care, the vice president holds out the prospect that Wisconsinites might in 2018 elect progressive leaders who are committed to reform that actually expands access to health care.

Progressive leaders understand that if health care is a right — and it is — then the only honest response to the current crisis is the single-payer "Medicare for all" reform, which would bring the United States in line with humane and responsible countries worldwide.

It is unfortunate that President Trump, who once seemed to recognize the logic of single-payer, has aligned himself with Speaker Ryan's scheme to make health a privilege rather than a right — and to use a "reform" of the Affordable Care Act as a vehicle to reward wealthy campaign donors with tax cuts and sweetheart deals. The debate in Washington is so cruel and unusual that it is easy to imagine that the cause of single-payer must be doomed in America.

Not so. The movement for single-payer is for real, and it's winning in California.

The Senate there voted 23 to 14 on Thursday, June 1, in favor of SB 562, a single-payer proposal that would guarantee universal health care to all Californians. "What we did today was really approve the concept of a single-payer system in California," declared state Sen. Ricardo Lara, a key advocate for the bill, following the vote.

"California senators have sent an unmistakable message today to every Californian and people across the nation," declared RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United, which led the fight for the "Healthy California Act."

"We can act to end the nightmare of families who live in fear of getting sick and unable to get the care they need due to the enormous cost," DeMoro continued. "We've shown that health care is not only a humanitarian imperative for the nation, it is politically feasible, and it is even the fiscally responsible step to take."

That's true. According to a review of a new NNU-sponsored study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: "SB 562 would produce substantial savings for households in health care costs as a share of their income, and California businesses, which would also see reduced payroll costs for health care expenditures."

The California proposal still must be approved by the California Assembly and, eventually, by Gov. Jerry Brown. Budget plans must be developed. The fight is far from over. But a hurdle has been cleared and DeMoro is right to say: "This is a banner day for California, and a moral model for the nation."

As the 2018 election approaches, Wisconsin voters should be looking to replace politicians who do not understand that model with leaders who understand that health care is a right.


The Journal Times of Racine, June 18

Ballpark fan safety rises again as an issue

The crack of the bat and the screams of fans at major-league ballparks are some of the sounds of summer.

But some of those fans are screaming in pain — the unintended victims of line drives or broken bats that sail into unprotected areas of the park and cause injury.

Hospital visits — and then lawsuits — sometimes follow.

Major League Baseball has taken steps to increase fan protection in recent years. Before the start of the 2016 season, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred sent out a memo to all 30 major league teams urging them to extend the netting behind home plate to the inner side of both dugouts — a distance of 70 feet.

MLB teams complied — including the Milwaukee Brewers. Nine teams took protective netting even farther and added it to the ends of the dugouts.

But soon that may not be good enough in New York City where a city councilman, Rafael L. Espinal Jr., has introduced legislation that would require both New York teams, the Mets and the Yankees, to extend safety netting all the way to the foul poles. That legislation is expected to get a hearing in September.

The Mets earlier this month said they would increase protective netting in mid-season at Citi Field to extend 30-foot-high nets past the dugouts and camera wells and then add 8-foot-high nets farther down the line — tripling the square footage of protective netting. They expect to have it in place by July 14. They will also extend netting at their affiliated minor league ball parks.

Other MLB teams are undoubtedly paying close attention. When fan injuries have led to lawsuits, MLB usually prevails in court on the basis of the fine-print warning on the backs of tickets that give notice of the possible risks of flying bats and balls.

Still, suits get filed. The Milwaukee Brewers were sued last year by a New Jersey woman who was hit in the face during batting practice as she was taking her seat in the second row behind third base. Her attorney's filing argued the Brewers violated Wisconsin's so-called "safe place statute" which requires property owners to do everything "reasonably necessary to protect the life, health, safety and welfare" of patrons.

The New York legislation will doubtlessly ramp up that debate over fan safety. And it should. It's not like fan strikes are rare. Research by Bloomberg News in 2014 said an average of 1,750 baseball fans are injured by foul balls or broken bats each year. No doubt most of those injuries are minor ones, but that's still a significant number.

And we would hazard a guess that fans have become less attentive than in years past, judging by the televised coverage of games that shows row after row of fans holding up their cellphones to take pictures or text their friends about the great time they're having. They're not watching the field.

Yes, there will be fans who object because they want to catch a souvenir, but that's a small concern compared to tolerating serious injuries.

Baseball needs to take another look at how effective a job they're doing protecting their fans — including nets all the way to the foul poles. Nobody wants to hear a summer refrain of "Take Me Out At The Ballgame."