Milwaukee Officials Still Donít Get It
By Patricia Obletz, Editor
Whatís the difference between a community forum and a resource fair? Evidently the City of Milwaukee officials really donít know the answer to this question, or they wonít give the time and respect due to the African American community to talk about how to improve relations between African Americans and city workers, in particular, the police.
People who report signs of violence to 911, and who wish to remain anonymous, have that wish violated every time the squad car parks in front of the 911 callerís house who dared to report violence and crime. The police who commit these violations leave, and then the gangs return and damage the property, shoot up the house, hopefully donít kill anyone.
Police officers responding to domestic violence 911 calls stupidly reach the house of the abused with sirens screaming and lights flashing, heralding their imminent arrival in time for abusers to escape.
And just a few months ago, there was the alleged wrongful treatment by Milwaukee police of Darius Simmonsí mother, Patricia Larry. After witnessing her next door neighbor gun down her son, Patricia Larry was torn from hisí side and held for two hours in a squad car as a witness to murder. Because of this episode, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Chief of Police Chief Edward Flynn met with the leaders of Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and agreed to hold a community forum on this specific issue on Thursday, July 12, 2012, at 5:30pm in the Rufus King High School auditorium.
But, none of us in the audience had an opportunity to discuss the above mentioned violations of ethical and intelligent responses to 911 callers at this meeting. The current mayor and police chief said what they wanted to say and then they left the building. They didnít have time to hear what members of the community had to say, they said.
Given the widespread protest that erupted when the officials walked out without listening to us, six weeks later, the cityís Office of Violence Prevention issued an invitation for a public meeting, this time at the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. ďBuilding Unity for Safer Neighborhoods: A Day of Learning, Engagement and CollaborationĒ was planned and scheduled without consulting community leaders on the timing for a work-week day with a 9am registration for a 9:30am to 3pm program on Thursday, August 30, 2012.
The invitation told us that the mayor, police chief, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker and District Attorney John Chisholm would speak in the morning. Unfortunately, the Safe Streets Outreach Program Coordinator guest speaker from Chicago couldnít make it). Next came the free lunch, which was catered by young people from Running Rebels. During lunch we heard reports from members of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, Milwaukee Police Department and Community Prosecution Unit.
ďCoalition Building Small Group WorkĒ followed the reports. I attended the District 5 small work group. Captain Terrence T. Gordon of District 5 reported that crime was down in his district. And I met some earnest people working hard to safeguard their neighborhoods. This was the best part of this meeting. Contact information was exchanged among colleagues from programs such as Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, the 14th Street Cares Block Watch, and the Milwaukee Area Time Exchange, to name a few agencies that are working for all of us to ease the pain and destruction of poverty, poor educators, and blatant racism.
Reverend Willie Brisco, president of Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), opened his closing remarks by introducing himself, adding, ďI am 58 years old. For a black man, that means that I have come through a whole bunch of odds to get to this point. If I go by the statistics, Iíve got about 84 years to live. If I go by the Bible, which is three-score and ten, Iíve got 12 more years to live. So I donít have time to make everybody feel good.Ē
The undertone of rustling papers and whispering settled down and silence deepened as the audience was caught up in the portrait that Rev. Brisco was painting of the realities facing Milwaukee residents today. The Reverend went on to say that there are ďsome bad pastors, some bad police officers and some bad politicians in Milwaukee, but we continue to tolerate them. Police work is not a job. It is a profession… If I had walked into this meeting this morning without knowing what it was about, I would have thought it was a police convention…
“We faith leaders decided to join forces with the police, justice and healthcare departments to improve conditions in the community through a public forum. But we knew nothing about this meeting. This is not to condemn this opportunity. Iím in this till the end, shoulder to shoulder with the police, and the mayor. Till the end. But I will say that, if you donít have the time to roll up your sleeves and sit down with the people and listen to us, then donít waste our time. You need to take time and talk to your people… What we have here is another failure to communicate…”
“Until white people in Mequon and Brookfield and other suburbs agree to build relationships with black people, until white, brown and black people build intentional and deliberate relationships, black people, who have been in this state for 200 years, will be stuck in Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Madison. Thatís a travesty, thatís a mindset that we have to get rid of. Thatís why City officials need to set aside a day during which theyíre willing to roll up their sleeves and sit down with the people. We know that the officers on the streets are doing the lionís share of the work, but we need to see the people at the top of the corporations take the time to sit down and listen to the people, sometimes. What we have here is a failure to communicate…”
“We cannot tolerate bad police officers, bad politicians, or bad teachers. But, what you do with bad police officers is, you give them support, and more support. If they are really bad police officers, you report them…”
We have grown to believe that dysfunction is normal
“We have lived with so much dysfunction in this community that we believe that dysfunction is the way to live… To get over dysfunction, we have got to take some hits, we have got to face discrimination, we have got to face the fact that some of us have to do it right in front of our children. And, we have to expect more of our politicians, our police officers and ourselves.”
“We have got to go knock on doors and tell people to call MICAH at 414–264–0805 to find out when our next community forum will take place. We must show everyone that we are not afraid of politicians or of criminals. We must make sure that our children are taken care of. They should not have to get up at 5am to get on a bus and go to the opposite side of town for school. Our children are not going to school with kids who look like them. Thatís insanity. We have to bring our children back to the decent neighborhood schools, or we will all perish…”
“There are 2.5 million people in prison in this country. Two and a half million people make up a small country. Some of our children have mental illnesses, often post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Many of them are in prisons. This is wrong that they are not treated for these conditions in community-based services agencies…”
“We create too many new organizations that do nothing but talk about the problems. We have all got to join existing organizations that are already working to help the community and have proven their value…”
“We just saw an ad in the paper from MATC and Workforce Development for an 18-month apprenticeship training program. And when people donít complete this education in this amount of time, we complain. But, in order to learn from and stay in this program, these students need financial support from the government. Otherwise, in order to sustain themselves and their families, theyíll be out there on the streets selling marijuana to put food on the table…”
“Why donít we start thinking like human beings and less like animals? We have got to start thinking like God wants us to: He created me for you, and you for me. In Heaven, there will be no professions, only good deeds. We have to stop talking and start doing.”
Violence on the street is greater than ever
“The anger I see on the streets is greater than I ever have seen it. Nobody is going to help alleviate this violence if we donít do it. But we cannot have a viable community without the police. We have to invest in the police, because they are not supposed to be our moral conscience. The faith community is our moral conscience. The police are not our psychiatrists, nor our teachers.”
“So I will say this again: The mayor, the police chief, the DA and the health department cannot walk out of the early phase of these community meetings. They must roll up their shirtsleeves and set aside a day to spend with us, listening to us, really hearing us, and really responding to us in real terms with real possibilities for solutions. Milwaukee canít get any further down than it is right now. We must all stand up and be positive examples for our children. If we cannot make things better for our children, they will come back to haunt us. And that is the way it is right now.”
“If we donít stand up right now, we will have people taking over this country who donít care about us, and who will take this country back to where it was in the 1920s.”
ďIím committed to helping us to stop the violence right now and take our community back. I hope all of you are with me, and are willing to go door to door to introduce yourselves to your neighbors, and your neighborsí neighbors, and provide phone numbers to community resources that will help us all to live in peace. God bless you, and keep you, and let all of us say, Amen.Ē
As Rev. Willie Brisco spoke, I couldnít help thinking about Americans who may vote for the party that wants to end womenís reproductive rights and healthcare. I cannot stop the chilling knowledge that there are actual politicians who want to shoot potential illegal voters. We must not let insanity rule our country that was founded on equal justice for all. VOTE on November 6, 2012.
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