In 2011, the Milwaukee County community was outraged by an event that took place at the Wisconsin State Fair. On August 4th of that year, a group of African American teenagers committed acts of violence against white people as they stood at the gates of the fair. According to one of the teens who was arrested, they targeted white people because they were “...easy targets...” This isn’t the only attack that we’ve seen of this nature in the Milwaukee area. In July a white man named Christopher Simpson was attacked by three black men who told him, “This is for Trayvon Martin.” The question that always comes up after such attacks is why, and one of the answers that is consistently given is segregation. According to an article that appeared in The Business Journal in June of 2013, Milwaukee ranks sixth out of 15 similar regions in diversity with one third of the population of the four-county metro Milwaukee region being part of an ethnic or racial minority; however, Milwaukee is still the most segregated of that group.
Segregation in Milwaukee has become ingrained in the identity of the area, and is an important issue of community concern. It is our responsibility to understand how this affects our identity as well. As citizens we should understand what leads to such segregation in the Milwaukee area, as well as the effect such segregation has on us and those stuck in segregated areas of Milwaukee.
A study of the 2010 Census data by Professors John Logan and Brian Stults of Brown University and Florida State University respectively notes that Milwaukee’s black to white dissimilarity score is 79.6. According to Business Insider in an article “21 Maps of Highly Segregated Cities in America”, a score above 60 is considered very highly segregated. The map of Milwaukee in this article shows that white people are represented as living on the edges of the city and more in the suburbs, where black people are found more in the north-central area, and Hispanics live near Humboldt Park. These areas are known for their minority populations, but they are also known for their poor economic conditions as well.
A large part of the reason why such segregation continues is due to the segregated areas containing largely impoverished populations. A study by Marc Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center of Economic Development titled “Race and Male Employment in the Wake of the Great Recession” shows that as of the 2010 census data only 44.7 percnt of the Milwaukee metro area’s black males of working age were employed. In 2008 this number was 52.9 percent. This lack of employment makes it difficult for many minority families to be able to move out of these impoverished areas. Furthermore, David Papke of the Marquette University Law School notes that some suburban and outlying towns such as New Berlin and West Bend have made a concerted effort to prevent the construction of moderately priced homes that could possibly appeal to residents of impoverished areas seeking to move out of those areas.
With impoverished conditions and an inability to escape comes crime. Even with that realization, though, the African-American population is over represented in our criminal justice system. At the time of the US Census, the data revealed that 12.8 percent of the African American population of Wisconsin was incarcerated. The national average for the incarceration of African Americans was 6.7 percent. John Pawasarat and Louis Quinn of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute stated in their 2013 research, “Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males”, “State DOC records show incarceration rates at epidemic levels for African American males in Milwaukee County. Over half of African American men in their 30s and half of men in their early 40s have been incarcerated in state correctional facilities.” This can be attributed to poverty and the inability to find meaningful work, but could also be the result of institutionalized discrimination. Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same drug, however they carry drastically different sentences. According an article in US News, “Crack vs Powder Cocaine: a Gulf in Penalties”, the sentences for selling crack cocaine were 43.5 percent longer than the sentences for selling powder cocaine. They also noted that 82 percent of crack cocaine arrests in 2006 were African Americans, whereas 72 percent of arrests for powder cocaine were white or Hispanic offenders.
As citizens, it is up to us to understand what leads to the segregation of Milwaukee, as well as other areas of the US, and how it affects each of us so we can try to find a way to fix the issue. Our identity is as much defined by the areas that we live in as those who find themselves in these unfortunate circumstances, so as citizens we should remain informed these matters. When Christopher Simpson was attacked he suffered a broken hand as well as injuries to his arms, chest, and head. Our knowledge of the cycle of segregation in our community could help to prevent the violence and crime that caused Christopher Simpson's injuries and heal the economic divide that plagues this city.