By Dennis A. Shook   Published Dec 08, 2006 at 5:23 AM
The streets of certain areas of Milwaukee can be mean as any city in America.

So Mayor Tom Barrett’s program of “Safe Streets Milwaukee” is being generally welcomed throughout the community.

But to read Time magazine this week, one would think it is a hopeless cause.

In an article about crime in the nation’s cities, the magazine started with: “It's as if Milwaukee, Wis., had reverted to a state of lethal chaos. A Special Olympian is killed for his wallet as he waits for a bus. An 11-year-old girl is gang-raped by as many as 19 men. A woman is strangled; her body found burning in a city-owned garbage cart. Twenty-eight people are shot, four fatally, over a holiday weekend.”

It even quoted the consistently upbeat Archbishop Timothy Dolan as saying, “You'll be able to read about something even more heinous tomorrow. People are scared."

The Time article recounts something most Milwaukeeans already know. Depending on where you are in the city and at what time of day, there is good reason to be scared.

”Few places have suffered more than Milwaukee,” the Time article adds. “The homicide count for the city of 590,000 fell from 130 in 1996 to just 88 in 2004. But last year, according to FBI figures, Milwaukee saw the country's largest jump in homicides - up 40 percent, to 121. This year's total will probably be lower, but as the killings over that bloody holiday weekend and other crimes show, violence has returned to the city.”

In his plan, Barrett focused on five key points:
  • Strengthening ties to the faith-based community.
  • Reducing the impact of gangs.
  • Ridding the streets of illegal guns.
  • Seeking neighborhood groups to help law enforcement clean up their areas.
  • Maximizing existing resources.
Barrett’s approach may seem a bit optimistic to some. Yet having a $2.5 million “Project Safe Neighborhoods” grant from the federal government does place some added muscle on the plan’s skeleton.

There are many who still see hope in working together for a safer city. George Martin, program director of Peace Action Wisconsin, said, “We’re in a situation in Milwaukee like most other American cities. But at least we have a good, cooperative relationship to build off of” in the city’s neighborhoods.

“And using the faith-based community is important but it must be remembered that the underlying issue is economics,” Martin said. “When I was a kid, everyone had jobs and the dignity that comes with them. Kids don’t have that today.”

Staying true to the group’s main message, he added, “The nation needs to redirect the money being spent on the war towards rebuilding America.”

Meighan Bentz, speaking for the Milwaukee Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Community Center, added that any attempt to make the city’s streets safer “is a good one. We can’t dwell on the failures of the past.”

She also sees the key as improving the economic situation.

“It’s also a good goal to set in place that we increase the collaboration between neighborhoods and law enforcement,” Bentz said.

At his press conference on the plan, Barrett noted, “There is a tremendous amount of work being done in this community by those who remain committed to our city, but if we are going to turn around our most dangerous neighborhoods and families in crisis, we are going to have to step it up.”

This could be an important first step, even if 1,000 more will be needed.