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Now that the initial emotion from the Aug. 13 shooting of African-American Sylville Smith by African-American police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown has subsided, it’s time to take a look at some of the fiery rhetoric uttered that night – in particular, from Milwaukee District 7 Ald. Khalif Rainey and his response to the subsequent riot in the Sherman Park area. Indeed, let’s examine his speech in the context of an elected official and look closely at his effectiveness in assigning blame to the proper parties responsible for the challenges he addressed that evening.
Rainey claimed that that the riots were "byproducts" of "the injustice, the unemployment, the under-education" that he claims renders Milwaukee the "worst place to live for African-Americans in the entire country."
He continued to say that black people in Milwaukee are "tired of living under this oppression." Rainey ended with "rectify this immediately because, if you don’t, this vision of Downtown, all of that, you one day away. You one day away."
The term "systematic racism" was frequently used in August to justify the outrageous and unlawful actions in #Milwaukee during the aftermath of the Smith shooting. While buildings were burning, Milwaukee liberals were insisting that these actions were due to a litany of systematic failures. Let’s dig into these claims to see if the system is truly systematically racist, or if there are other forces at work here.
Rainey cited under-education as a critical factor in Milwaukee violence. Without a doubt, low funding due to systematic racism is often specified as a challenge to attaining an education in urban environments. When considering that systematic implies long-term, we should see a methodical and detailed pattern of low funding for Milwaukee schools.
However, among the country's largest metro districts, MPS maintained its status is 4th highest per-pupil spender in 2011. In addition, MPS is so ravaged by systematic racism that they proposed $471,000 for Black Lives Matter in their 2017 budget. Clearly, the systematic challenge of under-education cited by Rainey does not apply to the funding provided to educate Milwaukee children.
Given that school funding is highly adequate, is attendance affecting under-education?
According to the Department of Instruction, "More than 70% of MPS high school students were considered truant in the 2012-2013 school year." Add this to Ald. Zielinski’s estimation that, "On average about 40,000 MPS students have five or more unexcused absences during a semester," and the answer to that question appears to be a resounding yes.
As I‘ve shown, the funding is there but a significant segment of students aren’t attending school on an acceptable basis. Hopefully this means that the students that are attending are learning?
MPS data shows that the "MPS four year graduation rate ticked up slightly from 60.6% in 2013 to 60.9% in 2014." Despite all of the effort expended to put kids in the right situation to learn, four in 10 do not finish MPS with a diploma after four years!
Rainey insists that under-education has much to do with the current problems of violence in the City of Milwaukee, but what the actual facts show is that a different factor is at work here. Racism isn’t causing under-education, but rather a systematic pattern of poor parenting is the problem, and it starts at birth in Milwaukee.
I had previously written about the challenge of co-sleeping deaths in Milwaukee several years ago. In addition, Mayor Barrett and the Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker released a report in 2013 discussing Milwaukee’s high infant mortality rate. In that report, it’s noted that from 2009 through 2011, black infants died nearly three times more often than white infants. What’s the root cause of black children being given less of an opportunity than their white and Hispanic counterparts?
In my opinion, it’s clearly because of a lack of fathers. In 2013, the Journal-Sentinel reported that:
"No large metropolitan area has a lower percentage of black husband-wife families, according to the 2010 U.S. census. Not coincidentally, none has a higher incidence of black poverty. The relationship between the two measures is strong.
"Out of all 366 U.S. metropolitan areas, only one, Dubuque, Iowa, ranks below Milwaukee in percentage of husband-wife black families."
When Ald. Rainey says that Milwaukee is the worst place in America for blacks to live, perhaps he should first acknowledge that funding for education is at direct odds with low parental involvement. The future of some black children in Milwaukee communities is being affected by a systematic pattern of poor parenting. Given the low birth rate and low school attendance, I’m not sure one can simply point to race as the driving factor that explains the differences in outcomes, both as children and as adults.
What kind of chance do these Milwaukee children have as adults when trying to find a job?
Back in 2009, it was an ugly situation for low skilled black workers. In fact, the Washington Post stated that "the unemployment rate for African-Americans surpassed that of every other state, reaching an average of 22 percent for the past 12 months." However, according to the Journal-Sentinel in 2015, "Unemployment among African-Americans in Wisconsin last year was the highest of any of the 50 states."
To summarize, in six years, the entrenched Milwaukee leadership has failed at the very least to crawl from 50th to 49th in the rankings. The failure of leadership to correct these types of injustices is what should be motivating residents to riot for change.
Surely, these neighborhoods will hold their elected officials accountable? In that same 2009 Washington Post article I linked above, "Most blamed Wall Street or the Bush administration for the deteriorating economy." If we fast forward to 2015, politicians are now blaming systematic racism for the same problems in Milwaukee that most perceived to be Bush’s fault only six years earlier.
In the district that featured the Sherman Park rioting, the residents have a Democrat as an alderman, assembly representative, state senator and mayor. In fact, Milwaukee hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1908. There may be a failure in systematic politics at work here, but they aren’t the types of failures that Rainey and his political associates would want to discuss in front of cameras.
Unless citizens recognize that a change in both representation and mentality is needed, aldermen from our most vulnerable communities will continue get up in front of TV cameras and point fingers at racism to easily appease an angry crowd. Until someone is brave enough to stand up and simply discuss the issues of poor parenting, low birth rates, truancy, low graduation rates and how they correlate to high unemployment, the same challenges will continue to plague some Milwaukee communities. Until people connect the dots that these issues are because of a systematic pattern of voting Democrat, and not in spite of it, things will stay as stagnant as they always seems to be in Milwaukee.
If you don’t think status quo is exactly what those entrenched in power desire, then you haven’t been paying attention to urban America for the last 50 years.
John Mumper is married with two young daughters. He was born in Wisconsin and grew up on various types of farms throughout the state. John was educated at UW-Whitewater with degrees in Political Science and History and has traveled extensively throughout the world.
Today, he works closely with various types and sizes of manufacturers and building products suppliers as an outside salesman. In his spare time, he enjoys the Milwaukee Brewers, Green Bay Packers, politics and brewing his own powerful beers.