Local Implementation: Milwaukee, Wisconsin (CERD Shadow Report, 2008)

We welcome the April 2007 US Periodic Report to the UN Committee concerning its
compliance with the Convention. This shadow report provides information on US
implementation of the provisions of the Convention at state and local levels of government in the
state of Wisconsin, particularly in the city and county of Milwaukee. The report focuses on
compliance with articles of the Convention that relate to racial discrimination in the areas of
criminal justice, employment, and housing. Generally, the US report does not sufficiently
address the government’s obligations to be proactive in vindicating the rights guaranteed by the
Convention. We therefore also address deficiencies in proactive measures to reduce racial
discrimination.
Racial discrimination and disparities are apparent within the criminal justice system in
Wisconsin. This report explores recent incidents of police brutality and misconduct against
people of color in the Milwaukee area. In addition, African Americans are incarcerated at much
higher rates in the state than non-Hispanic whites, likely due largely to racial profiling and racial
disparities in prosecuting and sentencing. As a result, poor prison conditions disproportionately
affect people of color. Moreover, the State of Wisconsin’s low indigency threshold to qualify
for public defense also has a disparate impact on minorities. Disfranchisement of individuals
with felony convictions who have completed their prison terms also occurs at a disparate rate for
people of color.
Significant racial disparities in unemployment rates between people of color and whites exist
in Milwaukee County, particularly in the city. Racial discrimination continues to occur in
employment practices in Milwaukee, as well, but the city currently has no formal mechanism for
investigating patterns of discrimination. People of color are also less likely to be able to access
higher-paying jobs, and one study found that the city underuses African American-owned
contractors, based on their numbers in the market. In addition, African-American families in
the state are more likely than any other group to participate in the Wisconsin Works (W-2)
welfare program, which is fraught with inadequacies. African-American and Latino participants
in the W-2 program are also more likely than white participants to face sanctions for alleged
violations of program requirements.

With respect to housing issues, the lack of affordable housing in Milwaukee
disproportionately affects people of color, who are more likely to live in poverty.
Homeownership rates are indeed lower for people of color than for whites in Milwaukee, and
minorities face discrimination in obtaining mortgage loans and homeowners insurance, placing
many people of color at the mercy of a tight rental market. Federal housing discrimination
complaints for Milwaukee County have been rising since 2003, as well, with racial
discrimination accounting for about half the complaints.
We conclude by offering a number of recommendations for policy changes in the state of
Wisconsin and in the Milwaukee area which are consistent with the US government’s obligations
under article 2 of the Convention to “review governmental, national and local policies” and to
take proactive measures to address and eliminate racial discrimination. Recommendations
related to criminal justice include raising the Wisconsin indigency threshold to qualify for public
defense and passing state legislation to restore voting rights post-incarceration.
To address disparities in employment, the state should reform the W-2 state welfare program.
For example, the state should mandate that all case managers and W-2 supervisory staff be
trained in diversity issues and civil rights requirements. At the city level, Milwaukee should
establish a funded entity to safeguard human rights. The City of Milwaukee should also fund a
comprehensive disparity study of racial discrimination in contracting as a potential basis for
improvement of the Emerging Business Enterprise Program.
Housing-related recommendations include increasing funding at city and federal levels for
landlord fair housing training and post-purchase counseling services for home buyers, to combat
predatory lending. The city should also increase budget funding for the city’s Housing Trust
Fund to a meaningfully substantial level. In addition, the Wisconsin Housing Economic and
Development Association (WHEDA) should amend its allocations of low-income housing tax
credits to prioritize projects that would encourage improved racial equity within the Milwaukee
metropolitan area.