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Shepherd Express’ Response to the Sherman Park Uprising

Be part of the solution to Milwaukee’s problems

Aug. 16, 2016
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Photo via the Associated Press

We at the Shepherd are distressed, saddened, angry and frustrated about Saturday’s police shooting of Sylville Smith and the violent uprising following it in the otherwise model neighborhood of Sherman Park. We send our condolences to Smith’s family and friends and offer our thanks to those who helped to restore peace and clean up the neighborhood. 

Although this has been a difficult few days, we remain very optimistic for Milwaukee’s future as it strives to be one of America’s great cities. In the days and weeks ahead we are calling for calm, reasoned discussions about what actually transpired in the past few days and why and how we can try to come together to continue to move Milwaukee forward. And then we need to act. 

To set the record straight, we support police officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep our neighborhoods safe. Actually, several years ago, the Milwaukee Police Association awarded the Shepherd’s publisher, Louis Fortis, its Media Person of the Year Award. At the same time we strongly support the right of individuals to protest peacefully to make their frustrations and anger known. But what we cannot support are violence against people, both black and in blue, as well as the decisions, both big and small, made by individuals, organizations or units of government, including the state of Wisconsin, that prevent all Milwaukeeans from living healthy, productive and satisfying lives.

As much as we deplore a violent uprising, we can’t just treat this as hooliganism and arrest a few individuals and continue the status quo. We need to interpret these unfortunate events of the last few days as a manifestation of a community’s frustration and cry for some real change. We have some serious problems in our central city that have gotten much worse over the past 30 years with the de-industrialization of the Upper Midwest. With the loss of tens of thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs in Milwaukee, which was one of America’s premiere industrial cities, Milwaukee’s central city went from a community with a strong and growing black middle class to one with very high unemployment and very little hope.

This has to change. We need balanced economic growth in our city. To be fair, there are a number of new and exciting business projects in the central city, but they are small compared to the projects in the Downtown area, so they don’t get much attention. We need to significantly increase the numbers of these new central city business projects to bring some hope to the neighborhoods. This is not going to be easy, but it must be done.

Job creation and economic development are absolutely critical, but there is more to be done. The big decisions that keep Milwaukee mired in poverty and segregation involve education, economic investment, transit, environmental protections and—yes—professional law enforcement and an effective criminal justice system. These are the decisions made by federal, state and local policymakers who need to find the will to do what’s right for the people of Milwaukee. All of us—and that includes the Shepherd—need to push our leaders to pay attention to struggling Milwaukeeans and make them use their official power to do what’s right for those who have been overlooked for too long.

In addition to the big-picture issues, the small, everyday decisions made by individuals also impact the wellbeing of Milwaukee. These decisions include who we befriend, how we talk about and act toward others, whether we engage in unlawful or ethical activities, whether we can offer a helping hand or a sympathetic ear, whether we defuse a fight or react with violence, or whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution.

If we Milwaukeeans are going to thrive, then we must be part of the solution. We can’t just sit back and blame others, whether they are elected officials or the victims of the policy-makers’ “big decisions” when they act out. It will be challenging, but it will also be incredibly rewarding to be part of helping move Milwaukee forward.  

We must also be wary of the simplistic solutions from some of our leaders who will use the weekend’s events to try to grandstand for their political gain at the long-term expense of our community. What’s happening in Milwaukee isn’t going to be solved by, say, more police, or more gun ownership, or going back to the good old days. The good old days are gone and we need to deal with the now, which requires multifaceted solutions to the complex problems we’re facing in Milwaukee.

Those solutions will take time, but there are things we can do today. There are many nonprofit organizations in the central city making real changes with a few kids or a few families. These organizations can use help and they need us all to volunteer. We all gain when we’re engaged, both the clients of the organizations and the volunteers. If you are active in a faith community, help organize a sister faith group with a faith group that is very different from yours, whether it is by race, economic class or religion. The more we know and understand others, the better and stronger our community will be.

All of us need to be part of the solution. Come on Milwaukee—we know that we can do better if all of us work together.


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