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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Living Commentary

The guy who was arrested in the playground shooting last week of 10-year-old Sierra Guyton is 18 years old and has been arrested 15 times. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Cycle of city violence calls for drastic and daring solutions


The guy who was arrested in the playground shooting last week of 10-year-old Sierra Guyton is 18 years old and has been arrested 15 times.

Fifteen arrests! Eighteen years old! It almost sounds like some kind of joke or something.

This is all so very familiar to me.

Back in 1984 I was the director of communications for the Milwaukee Public Schools. One evening a girl was sitting at a kitchen table doing homework with her grandmother when a bullet came through the window and killed her. She was 10. They never found the guys who did it.

I remember going to a meeting, I think it was at the old Garfield School, two days after the shooting. There were bunch of community activists and politicians and the new Chief of Police, Robert Ziarnik, there. Everybody vowed that this would never again happen in this community again.

I can't begin to count the number of times there have been rallies to end the violence. And nothing ever comes of those rallies. People light candles, talk about how angry they are, they march, they pledge to form block watch programs and how they will keep kids off the street.

And still, two gang-bangers, one an 18-year-old with 15 arrests to his name, open up on a playground and almost kill another 10-year-old girl.

If you ask me, all the talk, all the pledges, all the block watch groups aren't really worth a hill of beans. Neither is locking up a higher percentage of black men than any state in the union, by a large margin.

The budget for the corrections department is over $1 billion. I don't think all those programs that try to help prisoners get back to society do much. Nearly 40 percent of released prisoners end up back in jail within three years of their release.

I also think the issue of a lack of jobs is too easy an answer. This is not really about hope and jobs, but about values.

Let's also be honest that the perception is that it's in the black neighborhoods where the biggest problems are.

"The overwhelming amount of crime in the city is in the central city on the North Side," said MPD Lt. Mark Stanmeyer. "There is a small pocket on the South Side, but it's not even close."

I think honest discussion about race is one step in helping to fix this obviously broken pattern of behavior. But if we are serious about breaking this cycle, there is one way to do it, but it will take a lot of guts.

Get every 2-year-old in Milwaukee into school and keep them there. Do it year-round. Hire teachers and get buildings and get to these kids early, get them interested in learning. If parents don't put their kid in school, make it a municipal citation. Every parent has to take a class in how to help your kid at home. I'm not sure about uniforms, but I can be persuaded either way.

That would do it. We would raise a generation of kids who would understand and embrace the fact that there is more to life than life on the streets.

We would still have the problem of the kids like the Mr. 15 arrests, 18 years old. But at some point we need to focus on what we can really do. Nothing is going to change that kid. We need to be able to bite the bullet and write that kid off.

I can't begin to fathom how much all of this would cost. But whatever it is, we need something drastic. Otherwise the cost to our city will eventually overwhelm all of us.


Talkbacks

PMD | May 30, 2014 at 4:15 p.m. (report)

crackerbat I have no doubt that you are a law abiding citizen.

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crackerbat | May 30, 2014 at 2:49 p.m. (report)

PMD I have no problems with our current background check system being updated to include private sales... I sold every gun I owned last year, and will never buy another one.. or was it the year before? Anyway, nope, no guns here. Not a one.. Lying? me? how dare you!?

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PMD | May 29, 2014 at 9:57 p.m. (report)

A gun owner is inconvenienced by having to undergo a background check at a gun show? I am perfectly fine with that. Most sane people are. I never said the playground shooter used a gun purchased at a gun show, but it happens all the time, as evidenced by the recent story in the Chicago Tribune. A single man sold literally hundreds of guns to criminals in Chicago, all purchased at gun shows in Indiana, no background check required. That's insane.

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AndrewJ | May 29, 2014 at 5:59 p.m. (report)

@PMD - I'm not putting any words in your mouth, I'm simply asking you some questions. No, I'm not an expert on urban unemployment. Are you? That's the reason I asked the question: What is the reason for the 19% differential in state/national unemployment versus the demographic you so specifically mentioned. Get the answer to that question, and now we're working towards the potential root of the problem. This is something the current leaders of Milwaukee are not doing. They are not trying to find the answers to the actual problems, they are looking for bright colored band-aids that will distract people from the gaping wound. As to your point on laws and "you can't stop it, so why have a law against it"... don't devolve your argument like that. Be better. Comparing a lack of a "3 misdemeanors and no concealed carry" law to eradicating penalties for murder looks foolish. Since you moved on to the background check issue... I think most gun owners, myself included, would be OK with universal background checks. The issue at hand there is, who dictates what stops a sale from going through based on what appeas on the background check? If you give up on that issue, and then the government decides that "Welp, your background check showed you're between the ages of 1 and 99, so, sorry, you failed the check", now what? They just eliminated gun possession in the US. Also, again... what would your background check law have done to stop the crime being discussed? Do you think Mr. 18 year old felon with 15 previous crimes bought his gun at a gun show? A private sale where he would have registered for a check?

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crackerbat | May 29, 2014 at 4:48 p.m. (report)

Dave, honestly, I don't really care for your articles most of the time, but this one was pretty good. I think it took some guts to write a few of the things you did. @PMD - I'm just going to throw this out there since you guys got on the topic of guns in the comments: She was shot at Clark Street School... which is a gun free zone. Gun control... can you imagine the outrage if every car was required to have a breathalyzer lock on it? Of course, you would never drive drunk, so it would be a minor inconvenience. Why don't we do this? Because it makes everybody into a potential roadmurderingdrunk, instead of just a driver. You would be punishing an insane amount of sober drivers, just to inconvenience the relative handful of drunks, who would find a way to bypass the system. This is exactly what gun-control does.. it burdens the vast majority of gun owners, while effecting no change in the behavior of the criminal. If you made owning a gun a mandatory electric chair sentence, gangbangers would still be shooting at other gangbangers, missing, and killing kids. And drunks would still kill thousands of more people every year, even if every car had a breathalyzer lock on it.

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