State Fair, Riverwest, and Beyond
by Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs
One might not realize it by watching the news or reading some of the headlines lately, but untold thousands of our city’s African American children go to school, go to church, participate in sports and community activities, and are working to make the community better.
These children do not have criminal records, they make their parents, relatives, neighbors and friends proud and will likely never be written about or have news stories told about their great works.
Unfortunately, during the past several weeks we have seen television and newspaper accounts of acts of violence involving some young people in sizable groups. Whether it is the July 3rd incident at the BP Station at Humboldt and North, or the Kilbourn Park incident in Riverwest, or the August 4th State Fair incident, it is obvious there is work that needs to be done as we discuss the future of our children and their involvement in activities no one in our community can rightfully condone.
There is no excuse for these recent group acts of violence occurring in Milwaukee and many communities across the nation.
But in our haste to condemn the actions of a finite group, we have to be careful not to imply that such actions on the part of a few are representative of the values and virtue of an entire community. It is inappropriate and irresponsible to paint such an erroneous picture because sometimes perception is allowed to become reality. We should operate from facts and not speculation.
For example, of the nine people in custody for involvement in the BP incident, eight were young people turned in to police by their parents, were also from mostly working class households, generally doing well in school, and none of the juveniles had a prior criminal record. As more information comes forward the public will see that these are not the juvenile delinquents many automatically assumed they were. Additionally, reports now are that of the 24 people arrested in the State Fair incident, seven were juveniles.
If you were to take the largest estimated numbers of young people involved with these incidents (50 for the Riverwest incidents and 400 for the State Fair incident, and given that Milwaukee has more than 83,000 African Americans under 18 years of age), the reality is that those involved in the incidents make up far fewer than 1% of kids in our community. So maybe — just maybe — we need to concentrate more of our energy, time, and attention on the majority of kids who are not involved with these isolated incidents who are doing positive things in our community and who are not involved in these group acts of violence.
Make no mistake — the group violence phenomenon is very serious and we need to address it together as a city — but we should let no one point fingers, and we should let no one distract us from our goal of finding the truth as to why and how these incidents occur.
While yes there are countless things we need to work on in our community, including joblessness, health disparities, family structure, personal accountability, and many others, we can not allow our children as a whole to be judged or characterized by the actions of a few. And with each of these incidents there is enough blame to go around: i.e. State Fair could have had greater crowd control measures in place, MPD could have slotted more officers at public spaces where people gather to watch the fireworks, governmental entities could fund more youth activities, parents could be stricter, kids could be more personally responsible, etc. But at the end of the day, most of our children are good, law-abiding citizens and are not deserving of the erroneous broad brush depiction they are now receiving.
A few of my colleagues have suggested that these incidents are a result of the deterioration of the African American culture in the City of Milwaukee and illustrate deeper issues that only the African American community can change.
They could not be more wrong, and their “concern” is highly disingenuous!
Their statements diminish the credibility of City government, and distract the entire community from focusing on the real work and the hard work of preventive and proactive solutions that work in other communities but never seem to get a fair hearing in our city.
Shame on both of these Aldermen for spouting such divisive and offensive rhetoric that would more appropriately be uttered in this city’s distant past than its present. Milwaukee is better than that, and Milwaukee deserves better than that from leaders elected to help guide the city and its residents into a brighter future.
As Milwaukeeans, not one of us wants to see violence of any kind happen in our city. Now is the time for us to come together to find out what is causing some of our young people to act out together in violent ways; it is not the time to point fingers and place blame. It is the responsibility of us all to give back to the community that helps to make us who we are.
We each have an opportunity to influence the lives of young people: politicians can fight for more resources; parents can be more present; and community members can be engaged in the lives of young people as mentors and role models. We should all be working together to make a change.
One thing is for sure: Milwaukee’s African American community is a very vibrant, proud and ever-advancing culture of which I am proud to be a lifelong member, and which, despite very serious socioeconomic challenges, produces a majority of young people who are proud, positive, and productive members of our community.
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