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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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In Living Commentary

Wisconsin puts more black men in prison than all of the other states. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Wisconsin's a tough place to live if you are black


There are a number of things you don't want to be if you live in Wisconsin:

You don't want to be a Chicago Bears fan.

You don't want to be a non-drinker.

You don't want to be afraid of cold, or snow or darkness.

And you can add to that list, you don't want to be black.

Talk about shameful, the recent statistics on several fronts point with glaring clarity to how bad it is for black people in this state.

Item number one/two/three/whatever is the recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. The NAEP is the universal barometer that compares one state with another.

Wisconsin has the worst record in the nation for teaching black students to read. We are worse than Mississippi and Alabama, for goodness sake. The worst.

And we have the widest gap of any state in the union between black and white students. The widest gap of all the states. We beat Oklahoma by a pretty good margin. Oklahoma has the second biggest gap.

There are four tests given, fourth grade reading and math and eighth grade reading and math. We have the biggest achievement gap in all four.

Those are the children. Then let's take a look at black men.

Wisconsin puts more black men in prison than all of the other states. Oklahoma is second. One in eight black men in Wisconsin are incarcerated.

I don't think any of these statistics are all that surprising to those of us who have lived here all our lives. But the figures coming out in the same week seems to drive home a sickening point.

If you are white, Wisconsin is a pretty good place to live. If you are black, it's a living hell.

And one of the biggest problems we have is that not enough people seem willing or anxious to actually talk about these problems and find some way to do something about them.

A few years ago school choice was hailed as the magic bullet to improve education. Private schools that had money or kids would make the public schools better by competition, was the way the argument was framed. Well, that hasn't worked. What we have now are a few systems, public and private, that are doing a horrible job of educating young black kids.

There is no magic bullet to fixing education. But the research is clear on a couple of things.

Early childhood education is critical. A good teacher is critical. A good principal is critical. All the other crap about who gets to control which pot of money doesn't really matter. If we took all our money and put it into those three critical things, we might actually make a dent in this thing.

As far as prisons go, the expense is outrageous. It's about $30,000 per year per prisoner. And our prisons do a horrible job of giving prisoners the tools to help avoid going back to prison once they get out.

We don't send people away forever. Almost all of them are coming back to society at some point. And it seems to me that if we help them develop the kind of skills that might actually end up in a job, we'd be a lot better off.

We need to look carefully at what kind of crimes result in prison sentences. I have a suspicion that many of these people would be far better off with some kind of community based treatment programs than prison. We'd all be better off.

There are no easy answers to these problems. Anyone who tells you that they have the answer are just peddling so much crap.

But one thing is true. Being black in this state is not easy.

And I am ashamed about it.


Talkbacks

topgiuide | Nov. 15, 2013 at 3:02 p.m. (report)

Dave, you are an a$$. When is the black community going to wake up and start policing themselves. One parent families don't work well when children are involved. Lord knows there are way too many maybe, one parent families in the back community. WAKE UP!

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Otto | Nov. 14, 2013 at 7:39 p.m. (report)

Dave, Why not attempt to explain why black people here are so far behind the curve instead of pointing out the obvious. If not perhaps you could change the headline to , Black people in WI are running out of excuses.

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brewguru | Nov. 14, 2013 at 3:59 p.m. (report)

I'm proud of Wisconsin for incarcerating 1 in 8 black men in the state. If they commit a crime, go to prison. Why should we feel sorry for them? Turn on the news any day of the week, in what neighborhoods are most of the shootings taking place? Hmmmm. I don't know. I guess it's my fault.

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Photodavie | Nov. 14, 2013 at 11:09 a.m. (report)

Other commentors can point to students not wanting to learn and parents not taking interest in their children's learning, but how would that differ in WI vs other States. That doesn't explain why WI is coming in last in educating african-american youth. The vast majority of african-amaericans living in Wisconsin live in Milwaukee. I'm betting close to 80%. It seems to me that since we are talking about learning, the inescapable issue here rests with MKE schools. The system is clearly failing our african-american youths. I don't think this is a suprise to anyone living in MKE with kids in the system. I don't presume to have the answer to fix it, but anything has to be better than our current last-place system.

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AndrewJ | Nov. 14, 2013 at 10:44 a.m. (report)

At a fundamental level, what do any of the things you listed have to do with skin color? If you commit a crime, you go to jail. If you don't show up/pay attention in class, or your parents don't invest in/support your education, you will struggle in school. It doesn't matter what color your skin is, where you're from, or what language you speak. To say that it does is extremely simple minded and shallow. Try looking at the bigger picture for once.

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