Using code words evoking racist fears among the white suburbanites she represents, a Republican lawmaker promised Tuesday to push for state funding cuts to the city unless Mayor Tom Barrett gets tougher on crime.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen of Menomonee Falls was incensed that a Milwaukee police chase ended in one of the suburban counties in her right-wing district, which includes parts of Washington and Waukesha counties. Her over-the-top statement drew rebukes from both parties. Rep. Mandela Barnes, a Milwaukee Democrat, accused her of “Donald Trump style fear mongering,” and even fellow right-wing Republican Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker, called for “less rhetoric.”
Brandtjen issued a heavily exaggerated news release Tuesday complaining about how residents in her district spent last Thursday morning in fear for their lives as police searched for five teens who’d carjacked a woman’s Honda Civic at gunpoint in Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon.
Police spotted the teens shortly after midnight on Thursday morning and chased them into Washington County. The teens abandoned the car after it got a flat tire and fled on foot. Officers spent hours searching for them in the dark before finally capturing them without incident, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.
Brandtjen said in her release that homeowners were held hostage in their own homes and “families were forced to unlock their gun cabinets and instruct their loved ones to shoot to kill. The violence and crime that has plagued Milwaukee for decades has now begun to spill over into Milwaukee’s suburbs. I lay the responsibility for this growing and out of control problem at the door of the Mayor’s office.”
She went on to say that she’ll openly advocate for funding cuts to Milwaukee unless Barrett dramatically cuts crime in the city. She called on the mayor to fill vacant police positions, arrest car thieves, demand repeat offenders go to prison and stand up to judges who let repeat offenders off easy.
“I will no longer sit by while you destroy Milwaukee and its flourishing suburbs,” she said. “I cannot justify financing your failed policies in Milwaukee until you take public safety seriously.”
Brandtjen did not offer any actual accounts of anyone being taken hostage, arming themselves or telling loved ones to shoot to kill in the news release. Pressed in a phone interview, she said people in the neighborhood told her SWAT teams came to their homes and told them to stay inside. She said the neighbors told her that they were texting each about shooting to kill if they found an intruder in their house.
Barrett is a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor twice against Republican Scott Walker. His spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a message.
Barnes, who is black, issued a statement entitled “Donald Trump Style Fear Mongering by GOP Legislator.” He said in a telephone interview that the release carries a racial undertone and is trying to play on fears of minorities.
“It’s a lot of dog-whistle rhetoric,” Barnes said.
Brandjten is white. She made no mention of race in her release. Asked for reaction to Barnes’ statement, she replied that bullets don’t notice skin color.
“I’m asking for change so we can keep everybody safe,” she said.
Brandtjen is a freshman legislator who doesn’t even sit on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee. Vos said in an email to The Associated Press that situations like the chase require “less rhetoric and more realistic solutions.”
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond provided the reporting for this story.