by Milwaukee Public School Superintendent Gregory Thornton
As Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, I write to solicit your help in saving lives.
When I accepted my position 20 months ago, I knew the challenges we faced would be enormous. But I never thought that for our students, the challenges would sometimes be life-ending.
The last several weeks we lost four students on the streets of Milwaukee. Each young man was shot to death in a separate incident. You don’t remember the names? We remember them. They were DeQuann, Eddie, Rodderick and Mark, ages: 18, 16, 17 and 18. These were young men that somebody loved. They were boys who sat in our classrooms and laughed in the hallways and played ball in the park, and who are now all dead since December 28.
Please don’t turn away. Please do not dismiss the lives of these boys as not worth your time. I know the raw side of these cases, too. I read the police reports. Allegations of a fight, a robbery, a shooting over drugs.
The recent crime figures released by Milwaukee Police cite a lesser homicide rate for last year than in previous years, but it’s the risk factors for homicide that were listed in that same report that should worry us all: illegal possession of firearms, drug dealing and gang involvement. Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said it’s important to address what is behind the crime figures. I agree with him. If we do not learn from recent events, we are doomed to see them repeated.
We cannot let the descriptions of the last moments of these four young men define their lives. I don’t believe anyone who lives or works in this city, certainly anyone in leadership in Milwaukee should do it, either.
These children did not start out the way they ended. Each of these boys started out as someone’s precious baby, signifying the hopes of a family, just as each child is enrolled in kindergarten with the hope of graduating high school. Along the way, what happens?
Poverty happens. Jobs go away. Hopelessness sets in. Children are on the street for long hours each day, seeing the interplay of drug dealers or gang bangers.
The children become street-tough. Some of them bring their anger and defiance to our schools. At times their adult relatives follow them to school, and the fights can become more menacing. DeQuann, Eddie, Rodderick and Mark.
The TV news anchors read the stories with these boys’ names in them, the newspaper reporters write a few column inches and the next day, everyone moves on to other stories. It’s not just the cookie-cutter coverage of the media that gets me – it’s the silence from the community.
I am outraged because the community is not outraged. Has everyone simply accepted that this is life in Milwaukee now? No other community in this state would stand so quietly in the face of our grim statistic: four children dead in seven weeks. If four boys had died of the same illness, we would cry out for the vaccine.
This scourge IS contagious. Milwaukee, we cannot turn our backs on these children and their families. And what about the hundreds of other Milwaukee children who are walking a thin line between danger and hope?
They are the small subset of students in our schools who are frequently absent or truant, or who are quick to fight, disrespect a teacher or disrupt a classroom. We cannot allow them to soon be on the same, grim list of children lost to violence.
Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds has called a special School Board meeting on Tuesday, February 28 at 5:30 p.m. in the MPS Central Services auditorium, at 5225 W. Vliet Street to discuss interventions for troubling behavior and solutions for our community. If you care about children, if you care about the City of Milwaukee, and especially if you are in leadership in our community, I urge you to attend.
I have my own short list of what we I hope to hear. I want to hear ideas of how we can get more adults to mentor our students. I want college sororities and fraternities engaged. I want roles for faith-based coalitions.
I want the partnership of a thoughtful media, which will report not only on what’s wrong, but what’s working. I yearn for public and private partners to help us stage celebrations of positive student behavior.
We need your help, Milwaukee. The lives of our young people are in the balance.
Let’s learn from recent events and assure that each child born in our city has hope of living a long life in which he knows the support of the community around him.