RACINE — State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, sat silently for 1 hour, 15 minutes during her first legislative listening session in the Dr. John Bryant Community Center on Sunday afternoon.
The open meeting was entitled “Gun Safety and Violence Prevention.”
Neubauer scribbled notes throughout the meeting and chatted with constituents before and after, but didn’t actively contribute to the dialogue.
“I am here to listen,” she said in her opening remarks.
Two of the approximately 70 attendees were Case High School students. They both called for increased gun control, citing fear in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
Kejuan Goldsmith, 16, said: “We students are starting to speak up. We have been quiet, we have been waiting, looking at you guys to fix it for us. Because we’re only kids, right? … we just want change.”
Goldsmith’s Case schoolmate, Adam Vlach, said he feared that increasing security at school entrances would make Case resemble a “prison.”
“That will not help our education,” he said. “It might make us more secure, but in the end I’m sure it will have negative effects.”
Another speaker disagreed with Vlach, saying that she thought school entrances should resemble airport security.
Jeffrey Miller, 28, who said he lives in the central city, noted that there hadn’t been any mass school shootings in Wisconsin. He tried shifting the conversation’s focus, voicing concerns with what he called, “widespread fear of law enforcement among the African-American community.”
He said he considered the officer-involved shooting of Donte Shannon a result of “overkill.” Two police officers fatally shot Shannon, who was brandishing a weapon, on Jan. 17.
“I’m here because of fear,” Miller said, addressing the assembly. “We’re all here because we fear something.”
He said that he doesn’t want his newborn daughter to fear law enforcement like he and his peers have.
“It’s not good,” he said. “(Gun violence) is a universal concern that goes beyond school shootings.”
Racine resident Corey Prince felt the same way.
“I think it’s wonderful that we are rallying behind the cause of gun violence in the schools,” he said. “But 600 people were killed last year in the city of Chicago by gun violence.”
The Chicago Police Department reported 650 murders in the city in 2017, down from 771 the previous year.
“We have to care about each other,” Prince continued. “I want to challenge people to stop being divisive and stop championing causes that only affect you. Let me take up your cause and you take up mine, because we are all a part of the human race and we need to be fighting for each other.”
Tamerin Hayward, 70, a former Case High School teacher who retired in 2009, said that it was only “by the grace of God” that a shooting hadn’t occurred at the school.
During her tenure, Hayward said that students brought firearms to school at least three times. If they hadn’t been apprehended, she believes that on two of those occasions, the student planned to use the weapon.
“It’s scary to think how quickly a thing like that can happen,” Hayward told The Journal Times.
Another retired educator, Saunni Yelton-Stanley, 67, a school counselor who worked in Kenosha and now lives in Racine, said that she was overworked with too many student cases throughout her 34-year career, saying that she would often work from 7 a.m. “until the custodian would kick me out at 11 o’clock at night.”
Without changes to mental health accessibility in schools, she felt that counselors getting the opportunity to connect with every potentially troubled or “loner” student wouldn’t be a possibility.
Racine School Board member Brian O’Connell agreed. He, and others, implored Neubauer to bring change to the Legislature, emphasizing that education funding needed to be allocated to schools more efficiently.
Other attendees included Racine Mayor Cory Mason — whom Neubauer worked under and has replaced in the state Assembly — and Racine Education Association president Angelina Cruz, as well as leaders from other community and educator groups.
In her closing remarks, Neubauer said: “We are at a turning point.”
Those in attendance seemed to largely align themselves with Neubauer’s views on guns. Every time someone spoke out against arming teachers, they were applauded.
Neubauer wrote a commentary published in the March 15 Journal Times in which she criticized the National Rifle Association. In the commentary, she wrote about how she “grew up shooting guns at my family’s farm” and that “as responsible gun owners, we also have to recognize that something has gone horribly wrong in the culture around us.”
The 26-year-old Democrat voted last week for the $100 million school safety package that Gov. Scott Walker is to sign into law today in Kaukauna, according to a Sunday news release from his office.
Neubauer also has backed proposals that would implement background checks for gun purchasers, ban bump stocks, initiate a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, prevent firearms on mass transit and lower taxes on gun safes.