Commentary Abortion

Thoughts Upon Release From Jail After Sunday’s Abortion Rights Protest Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Sunsara Taylor

Its been just a few hours since I was released from jail in New York City. I was arrested yesterday and charged with “criminal trespass” and another lesser trespass charge as I was leaving St. Patrick's Cathedral after a group of women and men shouted "Abortion On Demand & Without Apology" and "Stop the War On Women" during a break in the service. Why this was worth it and what is next...

On Monday, I was released from jail in New York City. On Sunday, I was arrested and charged with “criminal trespass” and another lesser trespass charge as I was leaving St. Patrick’s Cathedral after a group of women and men shouted out the following statements during a break in the service:

“Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!”

“Forced Motherhood is Female Enslavement”

“Stop the War on Women!”

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St. Patrick’s is, of course, home of Cardinal Timothy Dolan–head of the Catholic Bishops, a lifelong staunch opponent of abortion rights, and the person who spearheaded the U.S. Catholic church’s recent political and legal revolt against birth control.

As I and one other woman, Alice Woodward, spent a long night each alone in a filthy cell, looking out between fourteen bars to cold fluorescent lights, a dingy wall, and a window that revealed only the dirty bricks and tarp of the next building (no green and no sky) I thought of the women in El Salvador staring out of similar cells after being arrested out of the emergency room and imprisoned if the doctors suspect they are bleeding due to botched abortions. I thought of the women who are imprisoned in Afghanistan if they fall in love with the wrong man or end up pregnant and while still unmarried. I thought of Dr. Pendergraft who had spent seven months in jail for illegitimate charges leveled against him by anti-abortion fanatics seeking to put him out of business.

There is a real war going on against women. Around the world, under the cover of religious authority, women’s dreams are extinguished, women’s bodies are treated like mere vessels for men’s sperm and the incubation of fetuses, women’s lives are foreclosed. Around the world, women and men faced not only the church, but also the state, if they dare to defy thousands of years of tradition’s chains.

With these people in mind, my sacrifice felt well worth it.

Still, time alone in a jail cell creeps by at a snail’s pace. So, my mind continued to wander. Soon, I found myself retracing the events of the last week–the first seven days of a ten day effort called Take Patriarchy By Storm–which led up to my landing in jail.

Despite my heavy heart over the tremendous and unnecessary brutality and shame that is inflicted on women on every corner of the globe, and despite the frequent interruptions inflicted on me by guards who spoke to me and Alice only with disdain, I couldn’t help busting out in a wide grin–and yes, I’ll admit it, a full out laugh with defiant and righteous joy at what we’ve begun.

I thought of Karlee, a 16-year-old year old from a rural area with more Chutzpah than most people twice her age, who ventured into a Pregnancy Crisis Center to get the real scoop on the lies and emotional pressure applied to women to prevent them from getting abortions. Despite knowing that she wasn’t pregnant and being well-versed in the truth about how fetuses are not babies and abortion is not murder, she still broke down crying under the intimidation and judgment inflicted on her from those who “counseled” her at this “clinic.” Still, she came through the experience stronger, writing about it here and then finding the courage to shout out for abortion rights at the top of her lungs on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral with others here.

I flashed back to the shocked and outraged expressions on the men who threw objects and misogynist insults at dozens of people who protested inside the “Original Hooters” restaurant–a restaurant whose entire theme is to revel in objectifying women’s breasts and women as a whole. The protesters draped “crime scene tape” that read “Danger! Crimes Against Women” around the restaurant and chanted, “Women aren’t objects, women aren’t toys. Women aren’t playthings for the boys!” Even better than the shocked expressions of the men were the faces of pure joy of the women and men who turned that restaurant, which every day serves as a site of women’s objectification and degradation, into a space of women’s liberation.

I thought of the audacity, the courage, the righteousness and the elation of the dozens of us who returned for the second time in one day to take the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral just the day before my arrest. How we joined together with our loud signs and stickers and “crime scene tape” to deliver a Call to Action against the whole war against women. I recalled how this infuriated many and brought the applause of others, but how this shocked all of the hundreds who stopped to witness this as it happened. We linked up, as our Call to Action does, the way that both pornography and the church reduce women to “things.” One reduces us to sex objects and the other reduces us to breeders and there is no fundamental difference between the two, neither treat women as full human beings.

I thought of the evening at Revolution Books when I gave a talk getting into the quote from Bob Avakian that begins, “You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men,” and ends by insisting that we must unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution. I was heartened by all the men in that crowd who spoke deeply and from the heart about how they have come, through interaction with the movement for revolution, to see this fight for women’s liberation as central to any chance to win a better world.

I thought of the porn stores in Times Square that “virtual girlfriends” (rubber reconstructions of vaginas, breasts and anuses for men to penetrate without the “hassle” of a real woman), torture porn, and hundreds of gang bangs, teens being violated by multiple men, and the sexualized humiliation and violation of women based on race. And I smiled, again, as I recalled how these spaces were turned into sites of liberation through women and men going right inside to raise their voices and then holding their ground and speaking the truth that is all too often told only through whispers and tears in the face of harassment and a f**king water-hose (I kid you not!) directed at us by those working at the porn store.

But most of all, and more than any single interaction or protest, I thought of the tremendous transformation that took place this week. I thought of the woman who had traveled up to New York City to join us for this project and marched with us and gone out every day to Union Square with us to collect the “Stories from the War Zone” of women and men who passed by to display in public what is often kept silent. After protesting the first porn store we went to on Saturday, as we walked down the block, I looked and saw her slumped on the ground wrapped in the arms of another volunteer. Her body was shaking and both the volunteers had tears streaming down their eyes.

When I approached, the woman who was shaking violently said to me, “Something just tore open in me when you were speaking in front of the porn store. You talked about everything that happens to women – and when you said that little girls are molested in their own homes… that was me. I was molested when I was five. In a place that is supposed to be safe.”

By now we were all crying, but I told her that these stories need to come out and she has the strength to turn that pain into fury that fuels this movement. She said she wasn’t sure she could do that, but even as she was saying that she was standing up and raising her head. Next thing we all knew, she was telling her story to the rapt attention of all who surrounded. She not only spoke of her abuse, but of how for her whole life she and millions of other women have choked on that abuse – carried the shame and the stigma, the trauma and the anguish of having been violated and having society just carry on. She spoke with pride of having disrupted people’s lunches at Hooters and their shopping at the porn store, “They should not have the right to eat their lunch based on women’s degradation while we are choking on our shame!”

Honestly, I am not doing justice to the power or the poetry of what she had to say. As one of our volunteers put it later, it was like a work of art, like a piece of master theater that she’d been working on and rehearsing for a lifetime – which, in a way, she had been.

By the time she had finished, she had drawn an even bigger crowd of passersby from Midtown New York. As you looked out on their faces, and knowing how common sexual assault and abuse are, it was clear that many who were riveted to her speech share the same experience and had never heard it spoken out loud before and with such defiance and righteous fury.

So I thought about this – and the others like her we met throughout the week. I thought of the deep feeling of upliftment, the righteousness of people’s suppressed fury coming out and the lightness and real feeling of liberation that comes from finally puking out all that anti-woman venom we’ve spent a lifetime choking on. But not only puking it up, turning this kind of furious truth-telling into a source of strength and a force that stirs and calls forward the suppressed outrage of others.

There is a war on women and we should all be impatient and uncompromising and completely unwilling to go along our dailies lives like this is normal and acceptable.

One of the things we all learned very deeply through this experience is that after having spent a life-time of trying to avoid situations in which women are degraded and demeaned, after seeking to avoid sexual assault and rape, street harassment or stigma cast at us for getting abortions or using birth control or daring to have sex and actually enjoy it, after doing all this and failing anyhow (as all women fail to do because these things cannot be avoided in a world based on male-domination), we discovered that the most liberated spaces are those that we create by going right in the face of the greatest concentrations of patriarchy and oppressive power. Standing up and fighting – right inside the Hooters, inside the porn stores, inside St. Patrick’s and many other places – was more liberating, and contributes more to the liberation of women, than trying to avoid these places and hope they will go away.

Through this kind of resistance, and through the tremendous and inspiring transformation of all the volunteers who took part in this project, we began to get a glimpse of the kind of massive political struggle that can really bring into being a different future for women and for humanity as a whole. And we got a glimpse of the kind of people that this political fight can create and that this future will be filled with. The irrepressible smiles and pride that rises out of the same women who were moments before shaking in fear, in trauma, in pain and in shame.

As we said many times throughout our time together, this is only the beginning. Our purpose was not simply to have the time of our lives – though we certainly have – but to set and example and to launch something new. Our belief starting out was that only if we act in a way that is commensurate with the real war against women that is claiming real lives every day, only if we dare to enter into this with the full outrage and impatience that that demands, will we be able to reach into and inspire others. But only if we succeed in bringing many, many thousands and tens of thousands into this movement together with us – and through connecting up with the important work that is going on in pockets here and there already – will we stand a chance at winning. So, I spent time overnight thinking about the plans we will be finalizing before everyone leaves town on Tuesday night for even more to come throughout the fall – for a high school sticker day and a day of action against the fake “clinics” that spew anti-abortion lies, for protests against pornography and more against the churches that have spearheaded the assault on women’s right to birth control and abortion, for more ways of speaking out and dragging women’s stories of abuse out of the silence and into the full view of the public, and of ways to celebrate and create a new culture through poetry and visual arts, through music and gatherings all along the way.

All this is just some of what I thought about while in jail. That, and the expressions on the people in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the lives of millions around the world who have been hurt by the bigotry and Dark Ages morality of the Catholic Church.

As I left the jail and given the date of October 15 to return to court, I was exhausted and physically grimy, but overflowing with the expectation of even more to come. Contact us and become part of this.

StopPatriarchy (at)


Analysis Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats Employ ‘Dangerous,’ Contradictory Strategies

Ally Boguhn & Christine Grimaldi

Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.

The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.

DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.

Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishing its policy goals.

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Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue. When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”

Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.

“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.

Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”

“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.

While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”

Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.

Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”

Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.

Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.

Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”

Despite what Jackson described as a commitment to the constitutionality of her laws, the Supreme Court in March blocked admitting privileges from taking effect in Louisiana. Louisiana’s law is also nearly identical to the Texas version that the Court struck down in June’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.

Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”

She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.

“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”

The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.

Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active” chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.

Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.

As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.

Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.

Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.

Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”

Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.

“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.

She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.

Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.

“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.

Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”

That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.

“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”

Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.

“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”

To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”

“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”

“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”

Commentary Politics

Milwaukee Officials: Black Youth, Single Mothers Are Not Responsible for Systemic Failings—You Are

Charmaine Lang

Milwaukee has multiple problems: poverty, a school system that throws out Black children at high rates, and lack of investment in all citizens' quality of life. But there's another challenge: politicians and law enforcement who act as if Black youth, single mothers, and families are the "real" reasons for the recent uprising and say so publicly.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

On the day 23-year-old Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer, the city’s mayor, Tom Barrett, pleaded publicly with parents to tell their children to come home and leave protests erupting in the city.

In a August 13 press conference, Barrett said: “If you love your son, if you love your daughter, text them, call them, pull them by the ears, and get them home. Get them home right now before more damage is done. Because we don’t want to see more loss of life, we don’t want to see any more injuries.”

Barrett’s statement suggests that parents are not on the side of their sons and daughters. That parents, too, are not tired of the inequality they experience and witness in Milwaukee, and that youth are not capable of having their own political ideologies or moving their values into action.

It also suggests how much work Milwaukee’s elected officials and law enforcement need to do before they open their mouths.

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Barrett’s comments came after Smith fled a traffic stop and was shot by authorities on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The young Black man’s death sparked an urban uprising in the Sherman Park neighborhood, an area known for its racial and religious diversity. Businesses were burnt down, and the National Guard was activated in a city plagued by racism and poverty.

But Milwaukee parents and families need more than a directive thinly disguised as a plea. And Mayor Barrett, who was re-elected to a fourth term in April, should know well that Milwaukee, the nation’s most racially stratified city, needs racial equity in order for there to be peace and prosperity.

I live in Milwaukee, so I know that its residents, especially its Black parents, do love their children. We want more for them than city-enforced curfews and a simplistic solution of returning to their homes as a way to restore calm. We will have calm when we have greater investment in the public school system and youth services; easy access to healthy food; and green spaces, parks, and neighborhoods that are free from police harassment.

In fact, according to staggering statistics about Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole, Black people have been consistently denied their basic human rights and health. Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration of Black men nationwide; the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found it is the worst state for racial disparities affecting Black childrenand infant mortality rates are highest among Black women in the state.

What we absolutely don’t need are public officials whitewashing the facts: that Milwaukee’s young people have much to protest, including Wisconsin’s suspending Black high-school students more than any other state in the country.

Nor do we need incendiary comments like those coming from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who drew national attention for his “blue lives matter” speech at the Republican National Convention and who is a regular guest on CNN and Fox News. In an August 15 op-ed published by the Hill, Clarke has called the civil unrest “the rule of the jungle,” “tribalism,” and a byproduct of “bullies on the left.”

He went even further, citing “father-absent homes” as a source of what he calls “urban pathologies”—leaning on old tropes used to stigmatize Black women, families, and the poor.

Single mothers are not to be blamed for young people’s responses to a city that ignores or criminalizes them. They should not be shamed for having children, their family structure, or for public policy that has made the city unsafe for parenting.

Creating justice—including reproductive justice—in Milwaukee will take much more than parents texting their teens to come home. The National Guard must leave immediately. Our leaders must identify anti-Black racism as a root cause of the uprisings. And, lastly, creating justice must start with an end to harmful rhetoric from officials who lead the way in ignoring and dehumanizing Milwaukee residents.

Sheriff Clarke has continued his outrageous comments. In another interview, he added he wouldn’t “be satisfied until these creeps crawl back into their holes so that the good law-abiding people that live in the Milwaukee ghetto can return to at least a calm quality of life.”

Many of Milwaukee’s Black families have never experienced calm. They have not experienced a city that centers their needs and voices. Black youth fed up with their treatment are not creeps.

And what hole do you think they should crawl back into? The hole where they face unemployment, underemployment, police brutality, and racism—and face it without complaint? If that’s the case, you may never be satisfied again, Sheriff.

Our leaders shouldn’t be content with Milwaukee’s status quo. And asking the citizens you serve to be quiet in the ghetto is an insidious expectation.


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