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All Hands on Deck 2016

Aug. 23, 2016
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No one wants his hometown to become a national media cliché, the latest community televised with businesses in flames and bullets flying in the Sherman Park neighborhood as anger erupts after years of unaddressed racial inequality and tension between police and the policed.

But it’s not as if everyone living in Milwaukee hasn’t been well aware of the vicious inequalities in employment, income, education, housing, incarceration, policing and every other issue affecting the lives of its black and brown citizens. The ugly statistics have been a regular staple of academic reports and journalism for years. There’s simply never been any concerted action by every level of government, civic leaders and the community itself to do anything about it.

Now the national media are spilling our dirty little non-secrets, identifying Milwaukee as possibly the nation’s most segregated city and quoting Ald. Khalif Rainey describing it as “the worst place to live for African Americans in the entire country.”

And outrageous political demagogues have rushed to capitalize on the black pain and suffering.

Those watching Republican Donald Trump’s televised speech, when he pretended to be on the scene calling for more police “right here in Milwaukee,” probably were surprised the crowd looked exactly like the chanting, white crazies attending every other Trump rally. That’s because the speech actually took place 40 miles away in the overwhelmingly white community of West Bend. For that, Milwaukee should be thankful. The last thing the city needed was a bombastic racist throwing gasoline on its fires.

Trump now brazenly uses the violence in Milwaukee to appeal for black votes at his all-white rallies. African Americans have been duped into voting for Democrats who have failed them, Trump says. In a rare, truthful public statement, Trump reminds voters Republicans were once the party of Lincoln. That leaves out the part where Republicans abandoned Lincoln’s principles in the 1960s to appeal to white racists incensed by the civil rights movement. Trump’s open courting of white supremacists is simply an ugly escalation of the racially coded language Republicans have employed for decades.

What Democrats failed to do was stop state and congressional Republicans from shredding economic support for their devastated central cities. Damn those Democrats. 

Schimel Withholds Body Camera Video

Instead of trying to score phony political points, everyone needs to work together to restore rationality to Milwaukee. 

Because there’s nothing rational about bloodthirsty cries for a young, black police officer involved in a fatal shooting of a black man to be murdered in the streets without any investigation, any evidence the officer acted improperly and knowing everything possible about why another black life was taken. 

It’s true we’ve had repeated incidents in this country of police officers carrying out such executions of black men in the streets. But everyone except the most virulent haters is realizing how wrong whites have been to accept deadly police tactics in black communities we would never accept in our own.

We’re fortunate the Milwaukee Police Department is one of the departments concerned enough about reducing such deadly encounters that its officers wear body cameras. Video now exists to help determine the circumstances that led to the latest shooting.

Both Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Edward Flynn want that video to be publicly released. Republican state Attorney General Brad Schimel is feeding public distrust by withholding it while his department conducts a supposedly independent, outside investigation. 

That points out another, even bigger, problem between the state and city that could wreck the kind of coordinated action needed to deal with the intractable racial inequalities inflaming the community. That’s the unrelenting hostility of Republicans in state government toward Milwaukee and its African American neighborhoods.

More than 16 years ago, Milwaukee Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore summed up exactly what has to happen to truly start eliminating the inequalities blacks face every day. 

It was 2009 when a much friendlier Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle teamed up with Mayor Barrett to try to wrest control of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) from the democratically elected MPS Board.

Instead of fighting among ourselves over power and control, Moore said, we need “all hands on deck.” Every level of government had to work together to provide equal educational opportunities for every child, regardless of race or income. The same needs to happen right now. We need all hands on deck to eliminate a wide range of inequities devastating the lives of African Americans that have grown to a flashpoint. 

That currently seems like an impossible dream. Republicans in Madison continue cutting hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars from the city’s majority minority public schools and state shared revenue for basic urban services. And congressional Republicans remain ideologically opposed to funding job creation, a livable minimum wage and even food assistance for hungry families. 

The reason why racial progress is so glacial in America is not because Democrats have failed. It’s because Republicans refuse to lend a hand. 


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