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Issue of the Week: New Berlin or Old Mississippi?

Jun. 29, 2011
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"The mayor, aldermen, plan commissioners and staff at DCD [the Department of Community Development] were aware that community opposition was based in part on race," the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit states. "The communications they received over several weeks contained express and implied racial terms that were derogatory and based on stereotypes of African-American residents. These communications referenced 'niggers,' 'white flight,' 'crime,' 'drugs,' 'gangs,' 'families with 10 or 15 kids,' of needing 'to get a gun,' of 'slums'..."

The mayor's residence was vandalized on several occasions. "A sign that read 'nigger lover' was placed in his yard. 'Bigot' was spray-painted on his driveway." The mayor received threatening phone calls at home, his tires were slashed, and his car windows were shot through.

As the mayor put it to a friend at the time, "I am a prisoner in my own home. ... Our city is filled with prejudice and bigoted people who with very few facts are making this project into something evil and degrading ... Unfortunately, I will be doing whatever is in my power to end this project; it will result in lawsuits and making [our city] a community of bigots."

Did these events take place in a rural Mississippi town in the Jim Crow era?

Nope. The federal case is being made against New Berlin, Wis., right now, in response to the predominately white community's reaction against an affordable-housing project that was working its way through the city's approval process.

Not surprisingly, the mayor, Jack Chiovatero, withdrew his support for the project after weeks of threats from New Berlin residents, 95% of whom are white. Although the project had initial support from city leaders, it's now on hold indefinitely. And the residents have gotten their way, at least for now.

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing New Berlin—a "community of bigots," in the mayor's own words—for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act. Although New Berlin residents may feel that racial discrimination is acceptable, it's immoral and illegal and cannot continue.

Heroes of the Week

Walker's Point Youth and Family Center Volunteers

Located at 2030 W. National Ave., Walker's Point Youth and Family Center provides shelter, counseling and intervention services for troubled youth and their families. These services are made possible by adult and youth volunteers who make four-hour weekly commitments.

Area youth who have experienced abuse, neglect or homelessness can utilize the center's Runaway/Crisis Shelter, which provides a safe environment and counseling services. The center also maintains a 24-hour crisis hot line.

The center's "Transitional Living" program provides shelter and independent living skills to homeless youth, and its "Insights" program offers support services for young adults. "Family Support & Empowerment" classes are offered at locations throughout the city. The center also fields a street team that provides outreach services to homeless youth.

Readers who want to make a difference by helping children in need are urged to contact the Walker's Point Youth and Family Center at 414-647-8200 or www.walkerspoint.org.

Event of the Week

Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan, July 8

The Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba will arrive in Milwaukee on July 8 for a potluck supper at the Central United Methodist Church (25th Street and Wisconsin Avenue) at 6 p.m., followed by a program with music and guest Rev. Luis Barrios speaking on "Cuba, Theology and Social Justice." Prior to the pastors' arrival, volunteers at the church will collect donations to send to Cuba. This year, Cubans are especially in need of construction materials to repair buildings damaged by hurricanes, plus bikes and kids' sports equipment. Materials will be collected Sundays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., until July 7. For more information, go to www.pastorsforpeace.org or contact the Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations With Cuba at www.wicuba.org or 273-1040 or 964-0350.


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