On January 4th, former talk show host Montel Williams was detained and cited at the Milwaukee airport by Milwaukee County Sheriffs for possession of a wooden pipe.
Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999 and has since been a public supporter of the use of medical marijuana to relieve chronic pain. He was visiting Wisconsin to participate in an experimental brain treatment program for those suffering from MS, Parkinson’s disease and other brain afflictions when a TSA employee noticed the pipe and called for backup. He was detained by Milwaukee sheriffs while the pipe was examined and eventually determined not to contain marijuana residue. Williams paid a $400 fine and was released with a February 2 court date.
Williams' arrest is merely the most public example of a troubling, wasteful epidemic of non-violent drug arrests in Milwaukee and Wisonsin—an epidemic that falls heavily on the backs of the state’s African-American population.
African-Americans in Wisconsin are among the most likely to be locked up in the nation and arrests for non-violent drug offenses have skyrocketed in the state in recent years.
Instead of arresting scores of African-American drug offenders, Milwaukee and Wisconsin should be investing in alternatives to incarceration and substance abuse treatment, both of which are more effective and less costly than locking up minor drug offenders.
Let's make Montel Williams' detention the starting point for a conversation around wasteful, racialized non-violent drug arrests in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. Let's tell Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to drop the charges against Montel Williams!
Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, Mr. Williams has been open about his use of marijuana to relieve chronic pain associated with the disease, and has publicly called into question laws that criminalize the plant.
But Mr. Williams' detention is only the latest and most public in a trend of wasteful arrests of African-Americans in Milwaukee and Wisconsin for non-violent drug offenses. As you know, Wisconsin's criminal justice system is a national leader in racial disparities, and arrests in Milwaukee and the state for minor drug offenses have skyrocketed in recent years.
I believe that Mr. Williams' arrest should be the starting point in a larger conversation about both racial disparities in Milwaukee's criminal justice system and the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on incarceration instead of substance abuse treatment and alternatives to incarceration.
Please stick to your no-nonsense approach and drop the charges against Montel Williams. And let's engage in a mature discussion about racial disparities and non-violent drug offenses.