By Cassandra Lans
Various leaders from Milwaukee are weighing in on what they think about Mayor Barrett’s approach to addressing the increase in gun violence throughout the city. Last week, following the mayor’s announcement of increasing police overtime in the amount of $500,000 and asking the state to match it initiated a mixed response. Several public officials and local leaders responded, and they feel that the violence problem runs a lot deeper than increased policemen on the street.
Alderman Joe Davis was one of the first to respond with the following statement entitled; ‘Divide and Conquer’ politics stagnates Milwaukee’s economy, shuts out Black males. He continued with the following, “I just get amazed when we as politicians get tough on crime, but are soft on economics. The City of Milwaukee has a pathetic rate of growth in its private sector that is directly related to its crime rate. Unemployment and the lack of productivity in various census tracts are a good indication that we have neglected benchmarking reasonable economic growth by not targeting our investments that could give a reasonable rate on return in the domestic and global economies. We accept group homes, day cares, gas stations and corner grocery stores as a pro business growth strategy while other local economies are looking at us in the rear view mirror. I shake my head as the City of Kenosha has landed Amazon’s distribution center while City of Milwaukee officials are sitting on the sidelines crying, “What about me?”
Now I know some may get offended by my assessment of our situation, but get over it; statistics don’t lie (unlike us!). The illegal drug trade is the common way in the City of Milwaukee’s African American community of providing the basic financial needs of many residents, and its mere presence is creating instability that is directly related to our violent crime statistics. We fight over minuscule issues that could unite us, but we are stuck in the past of Divide and Conquer. Now we want to spend $500,000 on police overtime, but fight not to invest the same amount in African American men and boys who will be the target of strict law enforcement because of our dismal local economy in their community.
Well, now the pressure is on. The clock is ticking, and the situation does not look good. My question is: who has “The Right Stuff”?” he concluded.
Alderman Ashanti Hamilton also weighed in on the issue: “At the beginning of the summer, Alderman Robert Donovan proposed taking $600,000 from the contingency fund for police overtime and hiring 20 new officers. That proposal was rejected by the council and the mayor at the time because it was shortsighted, unsustainable and did nothing to address the root causes of violence in the city. Those criticisms are still valid. The fact that the mayor and the chief are now proposing a similar strategy demonstrates a lack of will to put resources in the proper places to address the problems.
I am requesting the mayor embrace a different approach. We must, as a local community, have a more comprehensive, community-empowering approach to dealing with the root causes of violence in our city. We shouldn’t simply react to the violence after it occurs.
I suggest, again, that we reprioritize our spending through the city’s Milwaukee Promise Initiative. City departments have identified approximately $100 million annually that the city is already using to alleviate poverty and disparities that lead to violence, but I believe some of that funding can be used more wisely to provide support to programs and organizations that have a direct impact on the problems.
In an attempt to do this, the Community and Economic Development Committee recently approved an amendment to the Community Development Block Grant allocation plan to put $1 million into categories that would support and organize police efforts, along with community-based organizations, schools and other levels of government, to create a city-wide model for responsibly addressing poverty, disparities and inequities in our most impoverished neighborhoods. Many council members have expressed support for these ideas in the past. They can follow through on that support by sustaining the amendment made at the committee.
There has been almost universal support for national initiatives like the Byrne Innovation Grant, Choice Neighborhoods and Promise Zones, which offer resources and technical assistance to communities that are willing to take on the monumental task of transforming their most challenged neighborhoods into communities of promise and peace. Leaders at the state, county and Milwaukee Public Schools, along with the non-profit community and local residents, have expressed a willingness to partner with the city to pursue solutions worthy of the problems facing our city.
I reject any more quick-fix schemes, emotionally outraged statements and press conferences that don’t offer concrete solutions.
It is my firm belief that leveraging institutional resources with private and philanthropic investment, guided by true grassroots organizing around specific community development goals, will produce results far beyond the current discussion on violence reduction.” Hamilton stated
Finally, James H. Hall, Jr. president of the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP released an official response to the Mayor’s plan as well;
“The NAACP Milwaukee Branch abhors the murders and other violence that has recently plagued our community. Obviously, murder, as well as other criminal conduct, is unacceptable and cannot be condoned or tolerated. We must work with law enforcement and community stakeholders to contain and reduce crime but, beyond that, each of us as individuals, and collectively as a community must be responsible and accountable to each other.
At the same time, we as a society must not lose sight of the root causes for much of the violence. The poverty, unemployment rates and disparities in income and opportunity affecting Milwaukee’s African American community are among the highest in the nation. In that regard, the increasing violence is not necessarily surprising. The fact is that few African Americans or others with jobs and opportunities commit murder or other violent crimes. This means that all of us – elected officials, business leaders, faith community, community organizations, and educational institutions – have an important role to play in addressing these issues. It is not enough to express outrage about the violence. We must also be outraged by the circumstances that contribute to this situation. We must move the needle and reduce disparities by creating jobs and socio-economic opportunities to transform our community into “One Milwaukee” that is inclusive.
The mission of the NAACP is to promote equality for all people and to oppose discrimination based on race. We feel strongly that working to increase public safety is consistent with that mission. However, we know that the way to resolve it is not only by stopping the violence, but also by eradicating its root causes. We call for actions that address the lack of opportunity, the imbalance in education, and the general hopelessness that permeates our community.” Hall stated.