A bit over a week ago, I wondered if Bob Donovan's broadside regarding the lack of urgency regarding crime in Milwaukee - followed by a similar statement from Sheriff David Clarke - would elicit a response. The answer is apparently not and perhaps that is because the messages carried too much baggage. Donovan called out African-American aldermen in particular and Clarke included a riff against Spencer Coggs that seems to have been a reflection of some type of extraneous dispute.
This allowed the pols to respond by making the story about them. "I did this." "I didn't say that." Even Common Council President Willie Hines, who I think has the potential to be part of the solution, issued a statement saying that Donovan's attack on particular politicians had discredited certain policy initiatives.
This response is, on one level, understandable. I would not have phrased things the way Donovan and Clarke did. Perhaps they were unfair to some elected officials and no one likes to be criticized unfairly.
But I think that the problem is too big and too urgent to be about the politicians. Who holds what office is not as important as addressing a crisis. I would prefer to read Donovan and Clarke's statements as reminders that, if you are not part of a solution, you are part of the problem. Business as usual is no longer an option.
It seems like, at some level, even Eugene Kane agrees, writing that "I hesitate to criticize aldermen such as Tony Zielinski or Bob Donovan for suggesting far-fetched crime solutions such as the Guardian Angels or bringing in the National Guard. At least they are brainstorming for ideas rather than remaining silent."
After my post on Donovan, an aide to one inner city elected official told me that his boss does not wish to attack the African-American community and I am sympathetic to that. People like me - especially white people like me - who believe that inner city decline is best addressed by increased law enforcement in the short run and interventions aimed at changing a dysfunctional culture in the long run have to be careful about not crossing a line that turns concern about the vast majority of poor blacks who are being victimized by a small cohort of thugs into a general indictment of poor black people. The problems that we see in the central city today are not outgrowths of "African-American culture." They are, in fact, antithetical to historically strong family values that helped blacks weather slavery and decades of invidious discrimination. I actually believe that "we" - the larger society - created the problem, but, unfortunately, however much we contributed to its origin, "we" cannot simply spend our way to a solution.
But since Donovan and Clarke did not light a prairie fire, let's go at it in another way. In last Sunday's Journal- Sentinel, Barbara Miner rode the bus down North Avenue, observed what I admit are poignant disparities. I've been down that route many times (although, being less politically correct, I drive). She retreats reflexively into a series of failed assumptions and policies well addressed in this post by Patrick McIlheran.
But even if she offers bad solutions, she did observe some things that deserve our attention. The poorer parts of North Avenue that Barbara observed will never be anything but that as long as they can accurately be called, as they are today, Little Beirut. Isn't the first thing that we owe to the people who live there an end to that name?