Letetra Widman: I am my brother's keeper, and when you say the name Jacob Blake, make sure you say father, make sure you say cousin, make sure you say son, make sure you say uncle, but most importantly, make sure you say human. Human life. Let it marinate in your mouth, in your minds. A human life, just like every single one of y'all and everyone else . We're human and his life matters. [music]
Tanzina Vega: That's Letetra Widman. Her brother Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old unarmed Black man was shot multiple times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday. According to the family's attorney, Blake is alive and still in the hospital, but is now paralyzed from the waist down. Blake's shooting underscores longstanding tensions in the state between communities of color and police. Jacob Blake's father spoke at a press conference yesterday.
Jacob Blake Sr: Anybody that is white, that is doing an investigation about a Black young man, that was shot seven times in his back and haven't come up with an answer or a comment at this point, is not woke. [crowd protesting]
Tanzina: Last night was the third night of protests in Wisconsin, which turned deadly after a man shot and killed two protesters and injured one other. Wisconsin is also one of the worst states for Black-Americans to live, so much so that it recently became one of three states and dozens of cities and counties in the US that declared racism a public health crisis.
Letetra Widman: This is nothing new. I'm not sad, I'm not sorry, I'm angry, and I'm tired. I haven't cried one time. I am numb. I have been watching police murder people that look like me for years. [music]
Tanzina: I'm Tanzina Vega and we start in Wisconsin today on The Takeaway. [music] Joining me now is Marc Levine, the director of the Centre for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Marc, thanks for joining us.
Marc Levine: Hi, Tanzina. It's good to be with you.
Tanzina: Lots happening on the ground in your state right now. Let's zoom out for a moment. Kenosha is right outside of Milwaukee. You've been researching the history and the policy behind racial disparities in the state and you called Milwaukee the epitome of a 21st-century racial regime. It's a heavy thing to say. Tell me how you got to that conclusion, Marc.
Marc: I think I describe Milwaukee is the epitome of 21st-century racial inequality after looking at this array of indicators that shows how Milwaukee ranks either worst or next to worst or certainly in the bottom five on virtually all indicators of Black well-being in the nation's largest metropolitan areas. It's the most segregated and has the highest Black poverty rate, greatest gap in Black-white income, lowest Black household income, third-highest incarceration rate, and so forth. I thought of that in the context of Dr. King in the 1960s and 1963 to be exact, in his letter from a Birmingham Jail, talking about why he was in Birmingham. That Birmingham was the epitome of 20th-century racial segregation, legally established apartheid that mandated essentially by law, racial inequality. It's different today. We certainly have policies that are discriminatory, have institutional arrangements that are discriminatory, but we don't have laws that per se prescribe racial inequality, but nonetheless, as a consequence of those policies and institutional arrangements, we have a level of racial inequality in Milwaukee today that rivals or even exceeds the racial inequality that existed in Birmingham in the 1960s. Given Milwaukee's poor standing on all of these indicators, worse even in places that are also pretty distressing like Chicago, like Buffalo, like Detroit, and like Cleveland. Given Milwaukee's standing, I thought it would be appropriate to call Milwaukee in the way that Birmingham was in an earlier era, the epitome of racial inequality in urban America today.
Tanzina: We're now also joined by James Causey, who's a project reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. James, thanks for being with us.
James Causey: Hey, thanks for having me.
Tanzina: James, you grew up in Milwaukee. What's it like for Black communities there as you listen to Marc's findings here? Tell us how that experience was.
James: Marc's findings, for me being an African-American, is not really very surprising. One thing that I noticed as a Black man growing up here and living here for more than 50 years, is that we have a lot of problems here. When we lost our manufacturing base, my father and mother both worked in manufacturing and worked on assembly lines. When we lost those jobs, there was nothing set to replace them. Milwaukee never really established a strong Black middle class. The middle class lasted for a short period of time. That short time window was there. When the manufacturing jobs either moved South or they moved their jobs to the suburbs or closed altogether, Black people were left here back in Milwaukee with nowhere to get out to the jobs because of transportation to get us out to where the factories were. One pastor told me that Milwaukee is like on an island. All the Black people live in Milwaukee and once you leave Milwaukee and try to go to one of the suburbs in Milwaukee, it's like, "Why did you leave the plantation?" You feel like you're out of place. You're picked on by police. You make a stop. You may be looked at funny. Those things happen. Because of those reasons, I think a lot of people feel that the segregation is always on top of us. The racism is always on top of us. When we have incidents like the shooting that took place in Kenosha, it's just another eye-opening experience for a lot of us.
Tanzina: James, can you give us a sense of what's happening on the ground right now in light of the protests now have been going on for about three days? There were some peaceful protests and then there was an incident where protestors were shot. What do we know so far about that?
James: What we know is at least two people were killed last night. One other person was injured in a shooting. There's video that was shot by people with camera phones. It looked like a man was being jumped in the middle of the street and he came up with a gun and he just started firing and he shot two people. It was a violent night last night. A lot of cars were vandalized. A lot of buildings were burned. A lot of property damage. I don't see any end in sight for this unless more troops are probably called in and stricter curfews are put in place. I think right now a lot of people are just frustrated. You have peaceful protesters, but at the same time, you have a lot of people just coming in because they're agitators. They're coming in to just create all kinds of mayhem and things like that. Sometimes that could blurt a message. The message should be that people should not be shot seven times in the back and paralyzed especially a father of six. When a lot of people look at this and they-- by looking at the video, you would come to the conclusion that maybe something else could have been done to stop it from escalating to that point.
Tanzina: Marc, when you look at what's happening, particularly the shooting that we're talking about with Mr. Blake, are you surprised by the reaction? Does this essentially buttress what you've seen in terms of your research and how the relationship between Black people who live in the state of Wisconsin and police generally unfold?
Marc: I think the levels of racial inequality and the level of estrangement between the Black community and the police department in cities like Milwaukee and Kenosha are so entrenched and so pervasive that any kind of incident and this is more than just any kind of incident, this is the most horrific and heartbreaking kind of incident, can be a catalyst for an outburst. I think we're really now at the point after a generation. Let's be honest, conditions have deteriorated for the Black community in places like Kenosha and in Milwaukee for 40 and 50 years. I think we're at the point where that decline and that inequality has become such a part of daily life as James was mentioning that any kind of event can produce this kind of explosion. When you look at a community like Kenosha, in which 40% of working-age Black males are not employed, in which 33% of the Black population lives below the poverty line and in which the Black community has actually a higher incarceration rate than the Black community in Milwaukee, which is notorious for being one of the centers of mass incarceration in the country. You can see how all of the pent up anger was there in Kenosha, ready to explode.
Tanzina: James, a lot of these uprisings against police brutality that we're seeing are now starting to fit a pattern that I witnessed when I covered the shooting and killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri where protesters rightfully speak out against the injustice and leadership calls in the National Guard at this point and this is almost becoming part of the playbook. How's Milwaukee's leadership trying to address some of the issues that they're seeing unfold after the shooting of Mr. Blake?
James: It's funny how you say it follows a pattern. It follows a pattern because nothing has changed. We go through this every-- It used to be every couple of years now and it seems like it's like every month that we come across something like this. People say we have to come together. You bring in a National Guard, you have the looting, you have the arguments. People say that we have to do better. People say we have to come together, but then nothing really changes. The reason that we keep having these same talks and these same exhausting conversations is because nothing ever changes. This is going to be a pattern that continues. Nobody is really talking about what we need to do to fix this. I think we need very specific things. The Black community needs to ask for very specific things or what we need to change the conditions that we constantly face. One thing that's been talked about is "no knee to the neck" and no more chokeholds and things like that. I think we need to even go a step further. In our schools, in the inner cities, our school should be funded better than the rate than the schools in the suburbs. We need to have the best teachers in our schools, in our inner cities. We need to have the best possible resources for our kids in our inner cities. We need to make sure that families are safe and not being evicted and thrown out on the street. We need to make sure that livable wage jobs are out there. We need to raise the minimum wage. We need to ask for things like this or else none of this stuff will ever change and there needs to be better community-police relationships because honestly, these things happen and nothing ever changes between the relationships between the police and the citizens.
Tanzina: Marc, at the Republican National Convention this week, one of the themes has been the "Invasion of the suburbs" and I'm wondering what role does that framing play in the suburbs in Wisconsin and potentially around the country in creating even more racial disparities?
Marc: That's historically been a very potent issue in Wisconsin, particularly South Eastern Wisconsin, Milwaukee through Racine and Kenosha. All of those metropolitan areas are intensely segregated in a metro area setting so that you've got in Milwaukee and in Kenosha, over 90% of the Black population in the metro area lives in the city itself or put another way, only 10% of the Black population lives in the suburbs. It's the lowest level of Black sub-urbanization in the country. There has been a substantial amount of Black sub-urbanization that even in highly segregated cities like Detroit or Baltimore or Cleveland were upwards to 40% to 50% of the metro areas, Black population has moved to the suburbs. Not so in Milwaukee. Milwaukee in some ways resembles almost this 1960s, 1970s model of kind of an iron collar around the city, and outside of that collar is essentially a homogeneous white suburb. There's been strong resistance in the suburbs in Milwaukee to anything that smacks of desegregation, opposition to affordable housing. There was in Milwaukee for a period, a modest voluntary school desegregation plan at the metro area level, but it was modest and there were certainly not area-wide school desegregation. They're still, I think, in general resistance in Milwaukee suburbs to desegregation in housing, real estate patterns, or I should say, lending patterns in the suburbs. There's been analysis of mortgages showing discriminatory patterns of mortgage lending. I think there is and certainly politically, it's been a potent rate. More racially coded, I would say than as over as it 's been at the Republican National Convention where [chuckles] any racial coding has certainly been dropped, where political candidates trying to gain the suburban vote in the Milwaukee area, will talk about "the Milwaukee problems" and talk about Milwaukee in the way that Milwaukee almost becomes a proxy word for race. I think it has been a potent issue. I suspect we've seen a little bit in voting behavior over the last maybe four or six years, a bit of an attenuation of that. The Republican vote, for example, has declined a little bit in some of those strongholds. I think the issue will resonate in some communities, but perhaps less than even a decade ago or certainly several decades ago. It's still a very real political issue here. Racialized politics are certainly alive and well here.
Tanzina: Milwaukee is a critical state as you know, Marc, in the presidential election. We're not very far away from that. We're about three months away or less than three months away from the 2020 Presidential Election. The Takeaway is now on-air across the state. I'm wondering, given everything that we just talked about, do you suspect that this might tip the scales or it's still too early to tell?
Marc: I think it's too early to tell, but there are certainly any number of potential impacts of what's happening now and what certainly could be happening throughout the fall because certainly we've had two months now of mobilization over Black Lives Matter and now this episode in Kenosha which I think take things to a new level. It's certainly possible that with racial violence or seeming to have racial violence in Kenosha, that there could be some portion of Republican electorate in the suburbs that has been ready to desert the Trump candidacy for all number of reasons to say, "Oh, wait a second. I'm still not ready to go over to the Democrats and revert to traditional Republican resistance on issues of race and desegregation." It's unclear. For example, if the incident that occurred last night in Kenosha turns out to be a vigilante shooting by white nationalists. Is there a revulsion against that in affluent suburbs where persons, I think, don't perceive themselves as being overtly racist in view these events with obviously a great deal of empathy and distaste as they did obviously in the case of the murder of George Floyd where there was certainly a reaction across the board to that? I think it's too early to tell. We'll have to see how things unfold. It's very clear that Wisconsin at this point has a very slight edge for the Democrats in polling, but it's far from a given, which direction the state's going to go in November.
Tanzina: James Causey is the project reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Marc Levine is the director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Letetra Widman: Human life. Let it marinate in your mouth, in your minds. A human life. Just like every single one of y'all, and everyone else . We're human, and his life matters. [music]
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