Congresswoman Gwen Moore Gathers Leaders For A Community Forum on Gun Violence

WI Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-4) brought CA. Congresswomen Maxine Waters, Ranking Member, House Financial Services Committee and more, and OH. Marcia L. Fudge, Chair, Congressional Black Caucus, and more, to discuss with the inner-city community the rampant gun violence in our city. Moore chose Rev. Willie Brisco to offer the opening and closing prayers, and to moderate the panel discussion. Moore also invited panelists Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, MICAH, on The Nexus Between the Booming Incarceration Rate & Gun Violence; Mayor Tom Barrett on The State of the City and Gun Violence; Marna Winbush, Pres., Mothers Against Gun Violence on The Family Trauma from Gun Violence; Emilio De Torres, Milwaukee Public Theatre & ACLU on How We Can Separate Our Youth from Gun Violence; Antonia Vann, Asha Family Services, Inc. on The Connection Between Domestic Violence and Gun Violence. All three congresswomen spoke movingly of their own experiences with gun violence, poverty and solutions. Breaking the grip of the NRA is key to gun control, they said. That is why every single eligible voter needs to vote. The GOP and NRA are symbiotic and together encourage the reptile nature of the human brain, which includes the hoarding of wealth at the expense of the majority of people. Yes, my friend Mary Ellen, right now, it appears that you are right: the 20th Century Age of Enlightenment was an aberration.

The Rev. Willie E. Brisco: Clearing the Way for Recovery

By Patricia Obletz

“(D)isparity in justice—when blacks kill whites, justice is swift; when white police officers kill blacks, not so much—that is deeply troubling and highly combustible.”
---Eugene Robinson, 11/27/14, Washington Post column, “Dehumanizing Ferguson”

Not just in Ferguson. Dehumanizing people of color has been the way of Golden Rule Pretenders since well-equipped white people first discovered Africa. That’s why hearing from a tested Golden Rule Practitioner who is a volunteer activist for social justice is a gift to our souls. The Reverend Willie E. Brisco learned to deal with life from his first role models, his mother and grandmother. They were Golden Rule Practitioners, people who respect life in every color, never just paying lip service to Christian creed. They guided him with wisdom, humor, encouragement and unconditional love. Brisco continues their practice, the core of his ongoing work for justice.

After a 25-year career in corrections, retiring as Deputy Superintendent of Milwaukee County House of Correction in 2009, Brisco became Associate Pastor at New Covenant Baptist Church. The following year, he was elected to his first two-year volunteer term as president of MICAH, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope. Fall 2014, he was re-elected for an unprecedented third term.

At Brisco’s urging, MICAH moved from “in-your-face protest and challenging politicians to getting at a lot of tables and sitting down and trying to demand participation and inclusion.” Since 2010, some of MICAH’s accomplishments are:

  • Teamed with the Black Health Coalition in 2012 to sue state transportation department and the Federal Highway Administration because the $1.7 billion Zoo Freeway Interchange project unjustly ignored inner city residents who needed public transportation to reach jobs in suburbs. ACLU attorney Karyn Rotker and Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Dennis Grzezinski won an injunction to halt the project until spring 2014, when federal judge Lynn Adelman ruled to award $13.5 million out of the $1.7 B project to expand and create bus routes to business parks and other areas of commerce where buses had not been available.

  • Brought attention to the need for job creation and getting government more involved in job creation. Key to this effort is the 2011 complaint to United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that Housing Authority of City of Milwaukee (HACM) violated Section 3 of the Housing and Community Development Act “requires that Federal financial assistanceunded “employment and other economic opportunities generated by Federal financial assistance for housing and community development programs are, (when feasible), directed toward low-income and very low income persons,” especially those who receive government assistance for housing. Spring 2014, HUD issued a letter of noncompliance to HACM; both parties entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement under HUD’s supervision.

  • Reactivated and expanded the Ezekiel Project, which started in the early ‘90s to rehab and build new homes for low-income people.

  • Advocated for more money for public schools and better and humane treatment for teachers. “We are more willing to give young men millions of dollars for shooting balls through hoops for our entertainment than we are willing to give decent salaries to teachers who give students the tools by which they can have a meaningful, productive future,” Brisco said. “I don’t know any young individuals today who aspire to be teachers, given the disrespect afforded by the destruction of Wisconsin teachers’ unions,” he added.

  • Launched the 11x15 Project for prison reform – more on this campaign later.

Reverend Brisco’s blazing compassion for victims of injustice rings loud and clear when he speaks in public, offering solutions to ongoing oppression governed by relentless institutionalized and inbred prejudice. When we met this fall to talk about the years since his first MICAH election, he said, “Milwaukee is in need of a change. The numbers and stats don’t lie. We rank dead last in the country in terms of education, jobs, healthcare and transportation. Somehow, somewhere, people have to realize that those we elected have not been doing what we elected them to do. And yet, they get elected and re-elected over and over again.”

Obvious Displacement of Black Community = Political Failure

Brisco said, “I don’t want to have to meet elected officials in their offices to say, why don’t you let us rehab those houses to get them back on the tax rolls? Their job is to clear the way for recovery by cutting down the red tape. To do less is political failure.

But Milwaukee does not have the political will to revitalize the inner city. ‘They’ say people won’t come to a basketball arena in the inner city. But the people would come if you put the infrastructure in place, and the abandoned homes would become rubble for the arena, parking area, and new businesses, setting up the inner-city to thrive again.”

Jobs, respect not fear, and decent public schools would end “the constant reshuffling of people, displacing poor black people with people who have money, pushing the black community further northwest,” Brisco said. “There’s a reclaiming of the downtown area with trollies, hotels and a park – that’s where the political will in this city is. That’s where their hearts are.

“We don’t need charter schools. We need quality community schools that people can walk to in their neighborhoods, building a sense of pride, of belonging, and of ownership. Instead, we’re just transferring kids from one place to another. All this does is keep people in a transient state of mind . . . Most children who leave this community to go to college will not come back to this third world place and a sense of slavery. Yes, slavery, because, they say, ‘We give you all your constitutional rights,’ but if there’s no economic and political way to exercise these rights, then you’re still in slavery.”

Find the political will

There are few good jobs in the city, Brisco said, adding that many city kids find life in Waukesha or Brookfield “too punitive, too risky for them to exist. It’s easier to come back and live where they grew up, in an area that’s so impoverished and oppressed that they don’t even have the mindset to seek freedom from it. The average person doesn’t understand how hard it is to survive if you are educationally, financially and socially trapped in poverty. And, if we don’t find the political will to look at those situations and say that something has to change, I don’t know what is going to happen to this city. If we can’t provide jobs, we are just delaying the inevitable consequences of abject desperation-driven petty, non-violent crimes that feed the for-profit prison system.”

Brisco spoke of his visit to an inner-city drug store to buy baby oil and found all baby products behind locked glass doors. When he asked the clerk about it, he said, “She looked at me and said, ‘Sir, people only steal what they need.’ She was working at a job that did not take care of her family, but she had the compassion to understand that others didn’t have enough money to buy necessities…“

When asked about the April 30, 2014, fatal police shooting of unarmed African American Dontre Hamilton, Brisco said, “If I am following the law as dictated by this city, this shooting was the result of an illegal search that escalated into a death. There is no procedure in any police training that would allow you to fire a 14-clip chamber into a live body.” Brisco shook his head before continuing: “Nearly six months later, the officer is terminated for violating institution policies and procedures, but deemed innocent of wrongful death. Nothing they do from this point forward will look suspicious. Even if they decide to charge (Officer Manney), why did it take six months… to determine something that you and I, as regular citizens, saw from the first five minutes of understanding what happened? They waited until it was deemed politically safe.

“Police departments no longer protect and serve. They’re being turned into military units. You can’t drive down Sherman Avenue at night without seeing four or five cars pulled over with young black men sitting on the curb, some with their hands handcuffed behind their backs. This goes from being police work to being an occupying force that is there to keep everyone in this one area, so they won’t get out and ‘harass’ the so-called ‘decent’ citizenry.” Brisco took a deep breath before saying, “You don’t see white people pulled over and sitting on curbs at the behest of the police. Drive up and down Highway 100; you’ll see the same drug activity, but not the same police occupation. You see it in communities that are already punished by their economic situation, where people can’t get around easily, or have the ability to travel and recreate. Look at Ferguson, MO. You hear people saying that Ferguson does not have adequate black representation in the police department and government. That’s not true in Milwaukee. We have plenty of black representation in government in this city, yet we are still the last city in this country to provide decent education, jobs, healthcare, high school graduations, housing. And we still have more police shootings than Ferguson.

‘The federal government needs to camp out here and do a comprehensive study of Milwaukee’s racial disparities, its economic disparities, its housing and location disparities – this city is a throwback to the 1950s. When you see the depths of disparity between people of color and whites, you see how segregated we are. It’s worse for people of color in Milwaukee than in Mississippi,” Brisco said.

Back in 2012, Brisco had turned the other cheek when MICAH partnered with NAACP Milwaukee and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition to arrange a meeting between the mayor and police chief, and the Black community, about the May 31, 2012, MPD treatment of the Darius Simmons’ case. Despite the failure of the police chief and mayor to respond to community members as promised, Brisco resolved to continue to “stand committed to work with the police department to bring about trust and cooperation in this community.

Fall 2014, Brisco said, “There seems to be a complacency that not only pervades all of our institutions, but it seems to sink into our communities – we have become accepting of so many things. Why are we still electing the same people? In sports, if the team isn’t winning, they hire a new coach.” Brisco said, “Two weeks before the mid-term election, some church-goers still didn’t know if they needed a voter ID photo. Others asked, who should we vote for? That’s very concerning.” Brisco sighed and bent his head as if in prayer. “The fact they got rid of 1290 AM black radio plays a large role in this lack of awareness. But the larger role is the one we don’t see, which is what years and years of hopelessness produces: we’re now on the third generation of unemployed black males. People forget how hopeless individuals feel who are told that if you work hard, go to school, go to college, you’ll succeed. But, they come back to Milwaukee, and still cannot find work. I hear a lot of ‘They’re going to do what they want to do anyway, so why bother voting? We voted last time, you see what happened, so why should we vote again?’

“How sad is that for people who live in a democracy to feel that they are not a part of that democracy, that they are just a byproduct of whatever happens, so why trouble themselves about an outcome they have no power over? The prevailing depression that people feel existed before 1290 went off the air. People disengaged from the political process after electing Pres. Obama again. They don’t see any difference between having a Mary Burke or a Scott Walker for governor.”

Help Not Hurt

One of Brisco’s oldest passions is prison reform, which returns us to the 11x15 campaign. “Eleven-by-Fifteen is picking up traction because imprisonment is beginning to cost us more than anything on this planet. The loss of human capital that we see when people come back from jail with untreated mental illnesses and addictions that have only been put on hold, but not addressed — ” he paused then said, “Leaving prison with the same issues that led to addiction and crime that they entered prison with begins to look like insanity. They are living, breathing and feeling human beings who have to have their needs addressed. That makes the 11×15 Project a moral and a human issue.

“Until 11×15, most people had no idea how punitive the parole and probation system is, and how easy it is to go back to jail for minor infractions without committing a crime. Most people didn’t know how prisoners put in solitary confinement become mentally ill. It is a lifetime commitment to bring common sense into the judicial system. We’ve known for more than 100 years that incarceration doesn’t work if it doesn’t rehabilitate or cure. In most cases, prison just warehouses people. Prison orientation and exit interviews never tell prisoners that their rights will be restored when they have served their time and parole, which includes being able to vote again. Making someone a felon usually makes it impossible to get a decent job or live in certain houses. Few employers will hire felons.

“Prisoners are treated as lepers. I’m still amazed at how we in this country can take away a person’s citizenship, which is what happens when prisoners are denied the right to certain jobs, certain buildings, exercise their God-given rights. If your whole day is spent on survival, making ends meet, there’s very little room for anything else.

“We are going to need a huge stimulus to lift us out of the situation this country is in. I look at the destruction of Pompeii and the fact people died while going after their belongings. Their gold was more important than life. Today, we’re rushing to dig riches out of a planet that’s already being destroyed. That’s why I connect today to ancient Pompeii.

“There is an urgent need for new leadership in this city to protect the rights of those who are in need. Let us not waver in our promise to do what is just,” Brisco said.



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Last edited by patricia obletz. Based on work by Tyler Schuster.  Page last modified on March 23, 2019

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