BY JESSE JACKSON
August 16, 2016
Now it is Milwaukee. On Saturday, a car with two African-American men
was stopped for “suspicion.” The men fled, the policeman pursued, and
the driver, reportedly armed, was shot and killed.
And Milwaukee exploded. Angry crowds confronted police, set fires,
threw rocks. At least half-dozen businesses — including a grocery
store, a gas station and an auto parts shop — were robbed or destroyed.
The Saturday shooting was part of a weekend filled with violence in
Milwaukee. Five people were shot and killed overnight Friday.
Milwaukee law mandates an investigation of any police shooting.
Immediately, focus goes to the harsh relations between police and the
community. But to understand the reaction to the shooting, it is
necessary to go much deeper.
This city is “a powder keg,” Ald. Khalif Rainey told The Washington
Post. “This entire community has sat back and witnessed how Milwaukee,
Wis., has become the worst place to live for African-Americans in the
entire country. Now this is a warning cry. … Do we continue — continue
with the inequities, the injustice, the unemployment, the
undereducation…? The black people of Milwaukee are tired. They’re tired
of living under this oppression. This is their existence. This is their
life. This is the life of their children.”
An exaggeration? An excuse for rioters? Inflated rhetoric? Consider
Milwaukee’s stark realities.
Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the United States. Black
household income is the third lowest in the U.S. Its black poverty rate
is the highest in the U.S.
These are figures presented in a haunting and damning 2015 report,
“The Shame of Milwaukee: Race, Segregation and Inequality,” by Marc V.
Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The data show a black population segregated into neighborhoods of
concentrated poverty with declining prospects. Real black household
income in 1979 was $39,105; in 2013 it was $27,438, a foul decline of
nearly 30 percent. Household income for all races in Milwaukee has
declined over the course of this century, but far worse for blacks and
Hispanics than whites.
Nearly 40 percent of African-Americans are in poverty, up from 27
percent in 1969. Nearly 40 percent of African-Americans in the core
working age (25-54) are unemployed. This is in stunning contrast to the
15.2 percent black unemployment rate in 1970. For males aged 20-24, the
beginning of a work life, over two-thirds of blacks are unemployed —
68.4 percent — a staggering increase from 25.3 percent in 1970.
Schools are doubly segregated by race and by poverty. Seventy-one
percent of black students attend “hyper-segregated schools” — those in
which at least 9 of 10 students are minority. Nearly half of all black
students go to schools with 90 percent poverty rates.
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King launched the modern civil rights
movement in Birmingham, Ala., saying, “Birmingham is probably the most
thoroughly segregated city in the United States. I am in Birmingham
because injustice is here.”
Well, the injustice is worse in modern Milwaukee than it was in
segregated Birmingham. Black poverty, unemployment and impoverished
neighborhoods are all worse. The percentage of blacks attending
hyper-segregated schools in today’s Milwaukee is far worse than the Jim
Crow schools of Birmingham (71 percent to 56 percent).
This is, as Ald. Rainey stated, a powder keg. Police are tasked with
“keeping order.” That is like trying to stop a seething volcano from
exploding by suppressing the gases coming out the top. Even doing that
skillfully won’t work.
Milwaukee is not the worst. Black income has plummeted more in
Cleveland and Detroit. School segregation is worse in New York and
Chicago. Violence stalks the mean streets of impoverished urban
neighborhoods across the country.
And this obscene injustice gets worse with no action and little
notice. The poor, the New York Times reports, are barely mentioned by
either presidential candidate. And they are largely ignored by the
media. On Saturday and Sunday, riots occurred in Milwaukee, a major
American city. That didn’t make front page of the Monday New York Times,
which led with stories above the fold about a Trump adviser, liberal
worries about Hillary Clinton and malaria in Venezuela.
In Birmingham, Dr. King’s cry against the injustice of segregation
touched the conscience of concerned citizens across the country. Will
anyone hear the cry of the north side of Milwaukee, or the south side of
Chicago? Or will our cities have to explode before action replaces
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