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Wisconsin Republicans will not reconvene for talks on racial justice

Wisconsin Republicans are refusing to return to the state capitol, following an executive order by the governor for the legislature to reconvene to pursue a slate of racial justice proposals. The state's Democratic leaders say that the refusal to return to work for a special session is in itself is a refusal to acknowledge the harm done to Black Wisconsinites.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) signed the executive order calling lawmakers back to Madison the day after Kenosha police shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in the back seven times. On Sunday, Aug. 23, Blake was shot as he attempted to get into his car, with three of his children inside the vehicle.

The police shooting made national news, adding to the many police shootings and police killings of this summer. Racial justice uprisings have taken place in all 50 states, and many cities have taken up changes to policing in response to calls for defunding police departments and shifting power away from police in other ways. "We've got 400 years of systemic racism in this country, and if we don't do something about it, we'll be repeating Kenosha in cities all over our country and in our state," Evers said days after he signed the executive order.

Evers had introduced police accountability legislation in June, weeks after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The people of Wisconsin, the executive order states, "'are demanding action, accountability, transparency, equity, and justice for Black Wisconsinites in our state." Given that action was not taken on the legislation two months ago, Evers used the executive powers vested in his office to demand that legislators return to work.

Despite the supposed force of the executive order, though, local NPR station KPBS reported that the governor can't actually compel lawmakers to go back to work. The state's top Republican in the Senate, Scott Fitzgerald, stated Friday that no senators would heed the governor's call for a special session. Per KPBS, Fitzgerald said in a statement, "The riots in Kenosha and Madison this week further demonstrated that first responders are performing their public service duties at great risk to their personal safety." Instead of reconvening early, Fitzgerald said that he'd like to see penalties for violence against police when lawmakers return for the regularly scheduled session. Another proposal from a GOP senator calls for penalizing local governments that shift funds away from their police departments.

Democratic state Sen. LaTonya Johnson condemned Republicans' refusal to return, portraying the issue as life-or-death for her state. "The question for us, Wisconsin," she said, "is when are we going to make Republicans do their jobs, or do we continue to sit idly by and watch this state burn?"