Saturday, September 29, 2012

There is no more important issue right now than Derek Williams' homicide

By Barbara J. Miner

I was supposed to write a blog this morning on the Tammy/Tommy debate. But every time I sat down at the computer, I could only think about one thing.

Derek Williams’ homicide.

Right now, there is no more important issue in Milwaukee.

As in the past, the death of a young African American while in police custody has become the catalyst for a community to proclaim, “Enough is enough.”

Williams’ death comes amid a growing and disturbing list of police indifference to legitimate concerns in the African American community.

The role of the police, meanwhile, reflects broader areas of indifference.
On any number of indicators — hypersegregation, Black male joblessness, incarceration, poverty, and high school graduation rates — the Milwaukee region is known for its gaping racial disparities. Sometimes we are number one; sometimes we closely follow other rust-belt cities such as Detroit or Buffalo.
While poverty and joblessness continue at Depression-era levels in Milwaukee, our overwhelmingly white suburban counties enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the state.
This has been true for decades. But the refrain — at least we’re not as bad as Detroit, let’s focus on what’s good about Milwaukee —increasingly sounds like a sop to silence the discontented. Meanwhile, the hip and cool new generation of powerbrokers focus on measures to lure to Milwaukee the creative class of mostly white 20-somethings who have realized that urban living can be fun.
When was the last time you heard elected officials and business leaders call for a no-holds barred onslaught against Black joblessness? To combat the region’s apartheid-like segregation? To seriously deal with poverty? As for education, our city’s powerbrokers rely on lofty sounding appeals to private school vouchers and semi-private charter schools, while abandoning any serious commitment to the public schools that serve all students.
Or take a current hot-button issue, transportation. An excellent article in this week’s Shepherd Express explores the $1.7 billion that will be spent on the reconstruction and expansion of the Zoo Interchange “while slashing funding for public transit and killing off regional transit authorities. ... The ultimate beneficiaries of the Zoo Interchange expansion are more affluent white people who will be able to drive more easily between Milwaukee and Waukesha where jobs will be created.”
Between 2000 and 2035, the article notes, an estimated 74,000 jobs are expected to be created in Waukesha County, compared to only 300 new jobs in Milwaukee County.
It’s easy to get lost in statistics and controversies with bureaucratic agencies such as the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, whose SEWRPC acronym too often gives the impression that the commission merely deals with the flushing of toilets.
Which is one of many reasons that Derek Williams’ homicide is so important.
It’s not just because it is a matter of life and death, the most important of all issues. In stark terms, Williams’ homicide essentializes what is wrong with too many attitudes in the Milwaukee region toward the city’s Black community: indifference, neglect and blaming the victim.
As in any crisis, the way forward is not completely clear.
Should Police Chief Ed Flynn resign over this and other recent exposes of police misconduct? It’s an important if complicated question, and it’s not surprising that some people are demanding that the buck stop at the chief’s desk and he should go.
Should the federal authorities launch an investigation? That’s an easy one: of course.
Even easier: officials and business leaders should publicly condemn the hateful spewing of talk radio, in particular Mark Belling’s recent rant that referred to Williams as a dirty, rotten thug. 
There’s more to the Derek Williams’ homicide than the unnecessary death of a 22-year-old father of three young children. The case, whether we like it or not, reflects larger political and social realities, from joblessness to poverty, segregation and racial stereotyping.
The Williams’ case is a reminder that race is the elephant in the room in Milwaukee. Everyone — black, white, Latino, Hmong — needs to be part of the conversation of what to do about this elephant before the beast tramples us all.
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This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

1 comment:

  1. State sponsored negligence, or gross negligence as it might be in the Derek Williams incident, rightly deserves undiluted condemnation. But this isn't about black joblessness, which goes unaddressed in Milwaukee, as it does in all cities in America with democratic party mayors.

    This is about the lack of "enough is enough" within the black community concerning deadly behavior, period. If you've been watching the news you know there have been 3 reported homicides in the last two days - black on black shootings over nothing, as usual. And the rate of unsolved homicides directly reflects the attitudes of victims and witnesses who have to be dragged into court - if you can find them at all - and not surprisingly make poor witnesses. The number of convictions is low at trial in this city - and it's not the fault of police.

    In Milwaukee's black community its, "Free Boo" when Boo shot five people, raped 10 women, and sold drugs to kids. And in the rare circumstance when Boo gets convicted his females in the courtroom erupt with rage and have to be dragged out - this is a daily occurrance in the Courthouse complex.

    So save your outrage. Direct it where it also belongs, or stow it.