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A day along the lakefront used to be a pleasant experience. (PHOTO: Jim Owczarski)

Tension on the Milwaukee lakefront


I could make a pretty good argument that if there is one thing that sets Milwaukee apart from almost any other city it would be our lakefront.

It's beautiful and unspoiled. At least it used to be.

It is now, at least as far as I'm concerned, spoiled not by development of buildings or even litter.

It's spoiled by the atmosphere.

I drive Lincoln Memorial frequently, at least twice a day, five days a week and sometimes even more.

Last weekend I was on my way from the north to the high-rise bridge. It was about 5 p.m. on a hot Sunday evening. Rather than being greeted by the tranquility and beauty of the lakefront, my eyes were assaulted with the flashing red and blue of police or sheriff's cars.

I passed four cars that had been pulled over on the west side of the drive. The first one was at the north end of Bradford Beach. The last of the four was just short of the stoplight at the McKinley Marina. All the drivers were black. All the cops were white.

It was a hot Sunday. The kind of day that drives people to the lake. The kind of day that creates a crowd. You want custard from Northpoint and maybe a hot dog or popsicle from the counter at the Bradley Beach pavilion. Maybe a lemonade or beer from one of the new Tiki huts.

It's a day when you want to relax. But there's something else along the lakefront, something that isn't part of anybody's relaxation. It's an atmosphere of tension.

There's the Mobile Command Post from the office of Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. The only thing it doesn't have is a portrait of our sheriff with his white cowboy hat on top of his head. I can' t remember the last time I saw him without the hat.

Up and down the lakefront you see burly deputies, walking around with their thumbs hooked in their belts, armed to the teeth. They are very courteous and even full of good humor. The young ones look like they are checking out the girls, as they should be.

But still, there is an air of encampment about this place. You get the feeling that if you look the wrong way at someone or say the wrong thing you may well end up on your face, hands behind your back as those plastic cuffs hold your wrists together.

I've heard all the rational arguments for this show of force. It's way we've decided to keep things from getting out of hand. No roving bands of black kids are going to disrupt our summer sojourns. No sir. We are not going to be like Mayfair or Northridge - we've got the sheriff mobile command post.

I want to say this is wrong, but I really can't. I wonder what would happen if we removed all the cops and let people play, unsupervised by the sheriff and his mobile command post.

Maybe it wouldn't work out. Maybe there would be roving gangs and race baiting and fights galore. Or maybe the adults in this world might make the kids stop behaving badly.

I wish. Oh, how I wish.

Talkbacks

quickened | June 19, 2012 at 7:49 a.m. (report)

saltydog, If cops scare you then you need to take a look at your life style and ask yourself why. What are you doing that could potentially get you in trouble? Normal law abiding citizens often can make it through the day without feeling worried or threatened.

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mikeb | June 17, 2012 at 9:52 a.m. (report)

The takeaway I had from going to the lake the last few times is that it's too bad that we need that heavy of a police presence to keep the peace down there. It would be nice if people could just act normally and respect each other, but that wasn't the case at the lake. Before the heavy police presence the lakefront was just trouble.

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Saltydog | June 17, 2012 at 5:26 a.m. (report)

Cops scare me more than roving bands of black youth.

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AndrewJ | June 15, 2012 at 3:52 p.m. (report)

Sorry, but what is the point here? There are police at the lakefront discouraging obnoxious and/or criminal behavior. OK... sounds good to me. On a similar note, I just heard about this dairy farm up North that produces milk. Isn't that fascinating?

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mbbythelake | June 15, 2012 at 1:56 p.m. (report)

Unfortunately, some peoples' kids just don't know how to act in public, and they never will. These same people, regardless of color/race, expect society to do all the hard work for them (schools, police, etc.). This is just a great example of what happens when kids are not given any boundaries when they are growing up. Most parents would rather be their kids "friends" than to step and do their jobs...and on it goes. I fear for this world as this trend continues.

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