Wisconsin Police Detain Yet Another Black Man- Montel Williams - Over Nothing
by Antonio Ramirez January 10, 2011 01:58 PM (PT) Topics: Civil Rights, Health & Human Rights, Race & Human Rights, Racial Profiling
Last week, law enforcement deftly halted the smuggling of criminal contraband at an international airport, detaining former talk show host Montel Williams with a wooden marijuana pipe in Milwaukee. An empty one, that is.
Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999 and has since been a public supporter of the use of medical marijuana to relieve chronic pain. He was visiting Wisconsin to participate in an experimental brain treatment program for those suffering from MS, Parkinson’s disease and other brain afflictions when a TSA employee noticed the pipe and called for backup. He was detained by Milwaukee sheriffs while the pipe was examined and eventually determined not to contain marijuana residue. Williams paid a $400 fine and was released with a February 2 court date.
Tell Milwaukee County Sheriffs to drop the charges against Montel Williams!
Williams' arrest was a silly waste of time. But Milwaukee residents should consider the fiasco as merely the most public example of a troubling, wasteful epidemic of non-violent drug arrests in the city and the state—an epidemic that falls heavily on the backs of Wisconsin’s African-American population.
Wisconsin’s prison population has doubled in recent years due to the dramatic rise in the incarceration of minor drug offenders. In Milwaukee, the number of people locked up for such non-violent offenses grew tenfold between 1990 and 2004, and most of them were Black or Brown.
The state hit a new low in 2007 when it was named a national leader in the incarceration of minority youth and the state most likely to send Black juveniles to adult prisons. That same year, The Sentencing Project reported that Wisconsin locked up more of its Black residents than any other state in the nation. Today, African-Americans—6% of the state’s population—make up 45% of the state’s prison population.
Racial disparities, however, aren't the only reason Wisconsin should take pause before arresting non-violent drug offenders. Alternatives to incarceration and substance abuse treatment are better, more effective ways to spend state money on the problem. In 2006, a research team found that by investing in such services, Wisconsin could reduce its non-violent prisoner population by 1,500 and save taxpayers $43 million annually.
Luckily, Montel Williams’ celebrity allowed him to pay his fine and quickly get on with his life. A young man or woman without Mr. Williams’ means to pay bail, however, can sit in Milwaukee County Jail for weeks on a minor drug possession charge. Many - no matter how little weed they're caught with - are also charged with "intent to sell", leaving an exaggerated and permanent black mark on their records. And for African-American residents of Milwaukee, a criminal record is no laughing matter. A study by a Princeton sociologist found that white felons in Milwaukee were more likely to get a job callback than African-Americans with no criminal record, while Black felons were called back only 5% of the time.
The ridiculous detention of Montel Williams should be a wake up call for Milwaukee and Wisconsin. It’s time to end wasteful arrests of African-American non-violent drug offenders and to start a dialogue around more effective alternatives to incarceration. The ridiculous charges against Montel Williams aren't the first, and they won't be the last.
Let’s make an example out of Williams. Tell Milwaukee County Sheriffs to drop the charges against Montel Williams!