This is a draft of an ongoing essay of specific actions that can be taken to end racism, poverty and violence in Milwaukee. I first wrote it a few years ago as a response to being negative and not offering positive suggestions for change. Now I am reviving and updating it.
I have a dream of Milwaukee being a city of affordable housing for all, quality education for all, social services working together not in competition, with a good transportation system, high employment for all, reduced crime, violence and homicides, with low rate of incarceration of African Americans, health treatment for all, especially those with brain illnesses and a city with no racism and segregation. The reality is quite contrary right now. Milwaukee makes the top ten list in many ‘worse’ categories like the worst city to raise a black child.
I do not have the answers but over a full life as a Milwaukee resident, observing and studying history I do have some specific suggestion of what to do. I hope you do too and send your suggestions to IHaveADream@Nonviolentcow.org
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The first step toward eliminating racism, poverty and violence in Milwaukee is to admit it exist. I think most citizens in Milwaukee will admit that, as many studies point out, Milwaukee is one of the poorest cities in the USA. Even the Mayor of Milwaukee admits that Milwaukee is the second poorest city in the U.S.A. Our violent crime rate is a little bit harder to admit and there is a segment that believes more police will mean less violent crime. But when people are confronted with the facts they will probably admit that more police has meant more arrest for violent crime but have not prevented violent crime, especially homicides. Crime is like prisoners and prisons and must be treated at its roots. Near the end of his term, in the late 90’s, and after building many new prisons, Governor Tommy Thompson asked a special committee to look at the root cause for prisoners and prisons. They reported back and said prisoners and prisons “are bound to grow as long as the root cause of crime—poverty, lack of education and lack of family support—go unaddressed.” This is not what politicians wanted to hear and Wisconsin now has the largest rate of incarceration of black men, nearly double the rest of the country.
Institutional Racism, “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture, or ethnic origin”, is harder to recognize and to admit. Yet if you look at Milwaukee you will find in the majority black and Hispanic neighborhoods the rate of unemployment, poor housing, lead lateral water pipes, lack of education, infant mortality rate, number of people below poverty, children suffering from lead poisoning is significantly higher that areas that are predominately white areas.
Private, City, State and Federal development money is pouring into what I would call the new white Milwaukee. The city justifies its investment by saying the city will benefit by increased property tax. But when the property tax is realized the city often pours the money into projects like the development of new sports areas or streetcar that predominately serves the new white city or visitors.
The developing White City of Milwaukee has its heart downtown but can be seen in the developments south of downtown in the Menominee Valley, Historic Third War, Walker Point, and the Fresh Water Plaza and into Bayview;. To the West is the major development of five corporate interest called Near Westside Development. North of Downtown on East side of the Milwaukee river the development goes to the University Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Shorewood. There is some racial mix areas on the edges of White Milwaukee but it is predominately white middle class and wealthy residents. This development of a racial divided Milwaukee comes not by accident and is what we is call “institutional racism”.
Part of the Problem
Structural Racism plays into the Milwaukee water crisis. Milwaukee has over 74,000 homes with lead lateral water pipes that leaches lead into the drinking water. These homes are located in predominately African American and Hispanic neighborhoods. After the lead water crisis in Washington D.C. and that of Flint, Michigan the public became aware of how lead in the Milwaukee drinking water was dangerous, especially to pregnant women, infants and young children.
At the height of the lead in water crisis in Flint in 2015, Michigan 4.9% of the children tested has dangerous blood levels of lead, 5 micrograms per deciliter. However, in the same year, 2015, in Milwaukee 8.5% of children 6 and under tested had dangerous levels of lead in blood. Predominately African American zip codes had majority of lead water pipes, 56.8% and 12.8% of young children with dangerous levels of lead while predominately white zip codes have 19.3 % of lead lateral water pipes and only 3.55% of children tested had high lead blood levels.
There are many stop gap methods, water filters, letting water run, putting chemicals into water to line pipes to slow the leaching of lead into water but experts agree that the only method for safe water is lead pipe replacement. Lead in blood causes learning disabilities, irreversible brain damage and other disabilities. Cities like Milwaukee with led laterals have a 24% higher homicides than other cities. Yet Milwaukee, has no money in 2017 city budget, outside replacement of lead pipes that break or leak, for lead lateral pipe replacement for residential homes.
What Can Be Done
To make Milwaukee water safe the city needs to form and enact a strategic plan for lead pipe replacement. It will take a number of years but if the will of politicians is there the money and manpower is there. The City owned water department pays the city general fund 12 million dollars a year in Lieu of taxes. This revenue from City Water bills is spend elsewhere but not on lead water pipe replacement. The city of Milwaukee is funding types of development the new white Milwaukee under the pretense that the city will profit from these developments. However, when these developments do produce revenue like property tax the money is usually reinvested in same white area like a streetcar for downtown residents or financing development of new sports and entertainment district downtown. These are monies that could be used for lead water replacement. There are plenty of other sources of revenue to replace lead pipes. The long time benefits, reduction of homicide rate, less special education for children, healthy residents are great. Lead Water pipe replace would create good paying jobs and healthier children and adults.
Milwaukee prides itself on being the Freshwater capital of the US. Milwaukee can be that if people pressure politicians to provide safe water for Milwaukee citizens, despite race.
Part of Problem
Milwaukee North Central Neighbors once had a high rate, 80%, of home ownership. Now the neighborhoods are full of vacant lots, where houses have been torn down, rental units owned by landlords not in the neighborhood and vacant houses. While there are many reasons for this state of housing one predominate one for these neighborhoods and others in Milwaukee is the lack of development. Real Estate developers flood to downtown area and suburbia area to build houses, condos and apartments. Developers do not, for the most part, create affordable and low income housing in these areas of development. Developing affordable and low income housing in neighborhoods like North Central, predominately black areas is not as profitable and thus less likely to be done. The breakdown of the family relates to the segregation of housing by race and income.
What Can Be Done
The City of Milwaukee, County of Milwaukee and State of Wisconsin can pass an equal housing law requiring developers who are investing in City and County to also invest in low income and affordable housing the in the areas they are developing or in neighborhoods like the North Central Milwaukee. For example a city ordinance would require that a developer building a luxurious condo downtown either invest in affordable housing downtown or North Central side or others low income neighborhoods. The investment can be construction of building or money in a fund to rehab and build houses in North Central. Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the USA. If Milwaukee returns a mix of housing in downtown and neighborhoods, luxury, middle class and affordable housing we can return to neighborhoods of old with mix of people
Nearly all persons suffering a health crisis, like heart attack, stroke, car accident, being shot are taken to the Emergency Room of a Hospital. However, a person suffering a mental health crisis is taken to jail, the Behavior Health Center or a private facility, depending on corporation of person, health insurance and acts committed during the mental health crisis. Two thirds of people in county jail, house of corrections and State prisons suffer from a serious mental health illness. A person with a mental illness is 16 times more like to be shot by a police officer than a person without one. All this, despite the fact that a person with a mental illness is least likely to commit a crime than a person with no mental health illness. The criminalization of mental illnesses is serious problem in our society.
What can be done?
All hospital in the County could be required by law to accept persons in a person suffering a mental health crisis If person is shot performing an armed robbery the person will go to a the ER of hospital and released from the hospital to jail only after treatment.
Commitment laws in the State of Wisconsin could be changed allowing other professionals not in law enforcement to commit a person to a hospital. Often people go untreated because of health insurance issues. Parity of mental health illness with others result from illness or accidents is need. Families and Friends could be given more rights in seeking treatment for a person whose illness blocks them from understand the need of treatment. See Stop Sending Our Ill to Jail
Milwaukee is home to one of the world’s greatest promoter of affordable and sustainable, health food in urban environment, Growing Power. However, despite this great resources and others Milwaukee has vast areas of what can be called ‘food deserts.” Where a people in North Central area go outside the edges of these neighbors of predominately to purchase food at a large supermarket. Yes we have individuals and groups with induvial or community urban gardens but there is no easily available sources of health food at affordable food for many. Nicer restaurants feature fresh fish from Growing Power or one of the urban fish farms but low and middle income people cannot do so.
What can be done?
People throughout the ages from ancient cultures have discovered ways to provide sustainable, affordable, health food for themselves and their community
Using the know how of people through the ages that have provided healthy affordable food and the expertise of groups like growing power create a series of urban farms in neighborhoods like
In Milwaukee there is a growing need for basics in the household like beds, refrigerators and stoves. Most social services do not provide these basics to keep a household functioning well. Children sleep on floors, food is bought on daily basis due to lack of refrigeration and with a stove it is hard to prepare a healthy meal.
What can be done?
The Archdiocese decided to close down Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in North Central Milwaukee. What was once 17 Catholic Churches in North Central Milwaukee now became three left. Blessed Trinity had an active St. Vincent de Paul conference serving people in need in a large area with furniture, beds, stove and refrigerators among other things. The Archdiocese realized over one millions dollars from the assets of the Church the sale of the property. Proposals of what to do with the money were solicited. Here is one that was never given serious consideration but would have put a big dent in the poverty of the North Central side in a concrete way. The million dollars went to a trust fund in a local bank. This parable is an expression of what could have been if the money from sale and closing of this Catholic Church would had been used to make a permanent change of poverty in Milwaukee for years to come.
See the Parable: . Thy Kingdom Come On Earth as it is in heaven and what could have been.
Many years ago when voucher schools were introduced in Milwaukee I was a strong supporter. I saw it as a way for low income student parents to get their child in school of choice. However, friends warned me this decision would eventually be expanded and hurt Public School education.
My friends were right. Now the Voucher School program has been expanded statewide, now number 135 and a family of four in Milwaukee and Racine with an income of $73,401 qualifies for vouchers. Now with the addition of Charter schools, a school that receives public funding, but operates independently of the established public school system, and the deep cuts to public education by the State, Milwaukee Public School system is hurting.
A few of the first areas to be cut in the Milwaukee Public Schools is in the area of music and art education. This is paradoxical since music and art attack students to school and play a vital role in their entire education. My grandchildren in a public school system in rural area enjoy and a fabulous music education, with many bands, full time music teachers. I see how important music and art is to our youth yet there has been major cuts to youth most in need.
What can be done
If a middle class or rich family wants their child in a private school they can do what many parents, including my own working class family did, make sacrifices and spend money on private schools? Privatizing education by voucher and charter schools is a popular idea but it should not take away from funding of Public schools. Funding of Voucher and Charter schools can be limited or reduced freeing up money for public schools.
Restore full music, art and other cultural arts curriculum in Milwaukee Public Schools. Educating the whole students will have major dividends to Milwaukee.
When large corporate businesses want to be more effective and profitable they often merge. When private social services see new funding sources they compete and multiply. While big business may eliminate jobs in a merger private to be more effective and profitable private social services often hire more people with results of less money going for goods and services to people in need.
While private foundations, businesses and governments mean well in donating money to social services groups and agency the money is spread out and the services do not become self-sufficient and move with the money. Think about all the money spend over the years to help the poor while Milwaukee is a city with growing impoverishment of its people.
What can be done?
Private social services can consolidate and merge, often without laying off people, but being more effect and costly in delivering service, with more going to direct services to people in need and less to overhead. I know there will be resistance by private social services to this idea with each one, offering health care, employment services, tutoring, basic home needs, saying it is unique. But if we put people in need first and treat persons with equality I believe we can see that we can be more effective e by working together and delivering more money to people to be self-sufficient. This approach might mean some private social agencies going out of business if they are successful but if our goal is to make people more independent and community contributors, so be it.
Jobs, which are being created a distance away from the jobless of Milwaukee. 3 hours of commuting to a minimal wage job is not a family-supporting arrangement.
Neighborhoods, which are served by transit. We need more transit, and we need leadership to get people to share their neighborhoods (stores, schools, parks) with other neighborhoods. Getting there is not easy for those who are economically left out.
A few years ago I was curious why a group of neighbors want to eliminate full court basketball playing a nearby County basketball court. Full court basketball playing had be around at this park since the early seventies and the basketball courts had just been renovated. Talking with neighbors and youth playing basketball I discovered the issue. Full court basketball playing had not been issue when mostly white or Asian young adults were playing basketball at the park. Recently there had been growing number of African American youth and young adults. The County Supervisor at the time said she had promise of County Park not to put back the full court when park was renovated. The young adults told me that the elimination of full time basketball playing at city, county and school recreational department in mostly white neighborhoods had driven them to this County Park. Eventually the politicians and neighbors got two basketball rims and backboards down.
Researching this phenomena of taking down basketball rims, poles and backboards in predominately white neighborhoods on West side of Milwaukee had been systematic done when white neighbors complained about young adults (black) playing basketball. In fact, between North Avenue and Menominee Valley, from Wauwatosa to downtown there was only remaining county and one school playground left for full court basketball playing.
What can be done?
Restore the Rims so full court basketball playing can be enjoyed on the West Side by all. When the city of Kenosha had issues with full court basketball playing they took down the rims and backboards. However, working with neighborhoods youth and law enforcement they resolved the problems and brought back the full court basketball playing.
For history of Doyne Park see Resurrect the Rims