By Senator Lena C. Taylor
By now, many of us are simply overwhelmed. Wisconsin has been at the center of media coverage around the nation and across the seas. Be it CNN or London’s Channel 4 news, the recent events in Kenosha have placed a spotlight on the state. The funny thing about light is that it can be both welcoming and uncomfortable, at the same time. After all, too much light can be blinding.
For example, in all the discussions about systemic racism and implicit bias, since the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer, many have denied that there is a problem. Yet, conversations with Black community leaders and residents yield a very different determination. Therefore, it becomes necessary to look at the data. Facts and numbers, unless manipulated, don’t lie.
The numbers in Kenosha offer a very disturbing picture. In looking at the public safety workforce, less than 1% of the firefighters in the city are Black. Of 153 people employed in these roles, only two firefighters are Black. However, Blacks or African Americans make up nearly 12% of the city’s population. The numbers are no better in the police department, again with, Blacks comprising less than 1% of the officers. Specifically, there are 216 police officers, of whom nine are Black.
In looking further at Kenosha, the phrase “less than 1%” shows up a lot. We know since the recent resignation of the only full-time Black reporter at the Kenosha News, that there were less than 1% full-time black journalists at the local paper. In city contracting, we know that fewer than 1% of those contracts have been awarded to Black businesses. Yet, there are voices in Kenosha that would have you believe there are no systemic issues in the city. There are those that would argue that race was not a factor in the shooting of seven bullets to the back of Jacob Blake, an African American man. Yet, many Blacks have rightly questioned the difference in treatment afforded Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager, after he killed two people and wounded a third person, in the days that followed Blake’s shooting.
In fairness, it’s not just Kenosha who’s blinded to the problem. Just a day after visiting the city, U.S. Attorney Gen. William Barr was whitewashing claims of systemic racism. In a CNN interview, when asked specifically about the subject, Barr said that he doesn’t believe racism is a systemic problem in the U.S. He went on to say that racism couldn’t be systemic because “there are built-in protections against racists in police departments.” When a police department only has 1% officers of color, it doesn’t say much about protections. You can deny racism, systemic racism, structural racism or out-right racism, all day long. However, the data and the numbers don’t lie. If it walks like a duck, then you know the rest.