Opinion: Sentence in the death of Milwaukee community leader Ceasar Stinson sends exactly the wrong message

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Opinion: Sentence in the death of Milwaukee community leader Ceasar Stinson sends exactly the wrong message


In a city ravaged by reckless driving and racial injustice, the sentencing this week in the death of community activist Ceasar Stinson sends the wrong message to leaders, residents and law enforcement.

Circuit Judge Michelle Havas added insult to tragedy by sentencing former sheriff's deputy Joel Streicher to six months in the House of Correction and two years of probation, which was what the district attorney recommended.

Streicher told police he didn't notice a red light at North 10th and West State streets when he drove into the intersection, killing the 47-year-old Stinson on Jan. 25, 2020. Streicher pleaded guilty in January of this year to homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle. Video showed Streicher’s vehicle entered the intersection 11 seconds after the light had turned red. 

A memorial marks the site of a fatal car crash involving a Milwaukee County sheriff's deputy near N. 10th and W. State streets. Ceasar Stinson, a 47-year-old community activist and Milwaukee Public Schools lobbyist, was killed in the crash.

In the same week that worldwide attention is on the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis, a Black life was yet again denied justice, in Milwaukee.

In a week where several important local races were on the ballot, it's worth noting that we often overlook the importance of voting for elected judges and other criminal justice officials, including district attorney, sheriff and clerk of courts.

But these elections are just as important as elections for mayor, governor and president. In fact, local elections determine the future of education, the quality of roads, the allocation of budgets and whether the legal system continues to function as an instrument of oppression or a purveyor of justice.

It is almost unthinkable that this sentence could be handed out in a county that led the country in declaring racism a public health crisis less than two years ago. That declaration rings hollow if this is the outcome we can expect from a criminal justice system that hands out decisions every day that have lifelong implications for individuals, families and communities.

When sentencing someone, judges must weigh several factors, including the severity of the offense, the character of the offender and the safety of the community. In this case, Joel Streicher repeatedly demonstrated disregard for the safety and well-being of the public while on duty.

Streicher was involved in a similar crash on July 25, 2018, near North 11th Street and West Highland Avenue — just a few blocks from where Ceasar died. Body camera footage showed Streicher was driving the same unmarked squad and was exiting I-43 southbound at Highland Avenue in a left-turn-only lane. Streicher continued straight and collided with another vehicle. No one was killed in that crash.

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In April 2019, Streicher pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in connection with a prostitution bust.

Streicher previously sought to prevent release of his disciplinary record. Instead of being terminated as he should have been, he was allowed to retire by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department.

A six-month sentence is an insult to Ceasar’s family, friends, his Milwaukee Public Schools colleagues and everyone in the community who knew and loved him.

According to The Sentencing Project, “sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested, convicted, and face stiffer sentences for similar offenses.”

A reminder of that truth: On Wednesday, the same judge sentenced a Black teenager to 25 years in prison, followed by 20 on extended supervision. In 2018, Brian Vaughn, then 16, crashed the stolen pickup he was driving, killing a man. Vaughn left the scene of the accident and was apprehended after a police chase three weeks later.

We must do more to address these disparities in Milwaukee and throughout the country.

I first met Ceasar when he ran for city council more than 10 years ago. Through the years, he became a close friend and adviser. He strongly encouraged me to take on my current role and volunteered regularly at community events sponsored by the Office of Violence Prevention and the I Will Not Die Young campaign.

Until the time of his death, Ceasar tirelessly served the residents of Milwaukee as a lobbyist for MPS and provided mentorship to youth and young professionals throughout the city. His style and love for hip-hop were unmatched. His daughter was the pride and joy of his life, and he lived a life that he knew would ultimately make her proud.

On the day of his death, his last post on social media was dedicated to her: “No matter how slight — move in the direction of your dreams,” he wrote.

Ceasar Stinson with his daughter, Cearra.

In a city that has some of the worst disparities in the country for the murder and incarceration of Black men, Ceasar gave us hope and inspired us to always live on-purpose.

Every life is sacred, but when a life like his is taken, justice is the least that we should expect.

As a Black man who has served this community and knew Ceasar personally, I have yet again been reminded that no matter how much good I do for this city, in the end, it can kill me and deny justice for me and my family with impunity.

This sentence sends a terrible message about the seriousness of reckless driving, racial justice and equal protection under the law.

After years of protests for racial justice and equity in Milwaukee, we find ourselves yet again reminded that Black lives in Milwaukee will be denied justice — dead or alive.

Reggie Moore is the director of the Office of Violence Prevention at the City of Milwaukee Department of Health.


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