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Justice Initiative to Focus on Mental Health, Equitable Treatment and Police Accountability

Racine Women for Racial Justice (RWRJ) announces a new Justice Initiative with the intent to engage the 1,000-plus followers of the organization and other caring community residents in demanding equitable treatment for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) when they encounter law enforcement and judicial systems in Racine County.


The Justice Initiative will focus on:

  • Challenging the incarceration of people with mental health issues and the lack of available services for them

  • Examining policies and practices of law enforcement and legal systems

  • Engaging members and other Racine County residents to call for change when clear disparities become apparent

  • Establishing supports for people who experience disparities when they encounter these systems

The RWRJ Justice Initiative continues to request transparency from the Racine County Sheriff’s Department. Earlier this summer, the Justice Initiative called attention to the death of Malcolm James, a young man of color who died while in custody in the Racine County Jail over the Memorial Day weekend. Many questions remain about the cause of James’ death, particularly when it has been clearly documented that James was having a mental health crisis.


Not only do we ask for transparency from the Sheriff’s Department about what happened when Mr. James was in its care, but we call on the Racine County Board to take immediate actions as it prepares the 2022 County Budget to increase services to people with mental health issues and to stop the incarceration of people who are in crisis. RWRJ will continue to focus on the mental health crisis in Racine County and how it disproportionately impacts BIPOC People.


RWRJ is also releasing the body camera footage of a Racine County Sheriff Deputy in the apprehension of a person of color. The recording of the arrest, which occurred almost three years ago, was recently made available when an attorney for the person arrested, Deandre R. McCollum, filed a civil lawsuit on his behalf in the Eastern District of US District Court. The suit, filed against Racine County and Deputy Edward Drewitz, alleges the officer used excessive force in McCollum’s arrest. RWRJ agrees that Drewitz’s actions serve as an example of the excessive use of force often experienced by the BIPOC community.


In his encounter with Deputy Drewitz, McCollum, a black man, was approached by the white deputy for having tinted car windows. The encounter escalated to a chase, and Drewitz then released a canine to stop McCollum. The officer tased McCollum multiple times and allowed the dog to continue the attack even after McCollum was handcuffed and showing no signs of resisting arrest. The case calls for public scrutiny and review. It raises serious questions about why McCollum was stopped and how he was treated during his arrest.


The video of the McCollum arrest can be accessed here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/qy0hpevqt6puxut/edward%20drewitz%20body%20cam.mp4?dl=0


“The Justice Initiative will be studying this incident,” said Kelly Scroggins-Powell, Executive Director and co-founder of RWRJ. “We feel the public has the right and the responsibility to review what happened in this case and others like it, including the use of canines and tasers in the apprehension of non-violent Black, Indigenous, People of Color county-wide.”


RWRJ wants these practices to stop and has requested the following information through the Freedom of Information Act from Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling:


  • The Racine County Sheriff’s Department policies on the use of canines and tasers

  • The number of people, along with their race and ethnicity, who have been apprehended by the Racine County Sheriff’s Department with the use of tasers for the last three years, 2018, 2019, 2020 (January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2020)

  • The number of people, along with their race and ethnicity, who have been apprehended by the Racine County Sheriff’s Department with use of canines for the last three years, 2018, 2019, 2020 (January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2020)

  • Every report of excessive use of force by the Racine County Sheriff’s Department for the last three years, 2018, 2019, 2020 (January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2020) including how these cases were reviewed and their outcomes


“RWRJ will continue to ask these questions, questions that any reasonable person would ask,” said Mary Pucci, President of RWRJ. “We will continue to hold the Racine County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Schmaling accountable for the answers in order to ensure that excessive force is not used in any case in our community.”


RWRJ believes it is the obligation and right of all Racine County citizens to make certain that our elected officials, our law enforcement systems, the District Attorney’s office and the Racine County Circuit Courts treat all people equitably and fairly. This has not happened for many BIPOC residents of our community. RWRJ is determined to right the scales of justice with help from like-minded partners and Racine County residents.


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