The Milwaukee County Board: Much Ado About Nothing

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

But soft, what through county budget breaks? It is for youths, 65 grand the sum. Now is the budget of some ill content, made glorious spending by this son of Abele. To be, or not to be? That is the question on December 15th.

Put money in thy purse, Milwaukee County. For in Milwaukee County when an agency spends money slower than anticipated, members of the County Board consider it found money rather than an already-obligated expense.

Milwaukee County’s judiciary committee voted 5-2 to spend $65,000 to start a new program to take some juvenile offenders and sentence them to perform in plays written by William Shakespeare. The money comes from a new intake program that was slow in implementation. The obligation isn’t gone, but the money hasn’t been spent yet. So why not whip a little Shakespeare on the urchins? That other bill will just be dealt with later, just like other bills in Milwaukee County.

The program is modeled after a Shakespeare in the courts program in Massachusetts. It was the idea of now-retired Judge Paul Perachi. Claims of the program’s success may be much ado about nothing. When Perachi was asked about the program’s success rate by Voice of America news, Perachi said, “Even if we only have a few, it is worth it.”

That might not live up to the public’s expectation of success for dealing with juvenile offenders. Far from the comic exploits of Jack Falstaff as a thief, the prospective participants will have committed such crimes as assault, breaking and entering, and even assault with a deadly weapon. These stories are less about unfortunate thieves named Pistol than they are about thieves with pistols.

Taxpayers might wonder, along with Sheriff David Clarke, just what the youthful offenders might learn from Shakespeare? Jealousy and spousal murder from Othello? The proper way to organize a gang stabbing from Julius Caesar? Suicide and mass slaughter in Hamlet? Gang loyalty and violence from Romeo and Juliet? Rape and mayhem from Titus Andronicus? Lord, what fools these mortals be!

It will make the program participants’ future court appearances interesting.

“Your honor, my client would like to say a few words in his defense.”

“Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call”

Clarke’s wrong, of course, about complaining about the Eurocentric nature of Shakespeare. “If some conservative or Republican came up with an idea like this for black and Hispanic delinquents the Left and their elitist ilk would cry  `racism.’  They would say that forcing that old white guy Bill Shakespeare, or any English Literature or other Euro-Centric arts, on minority urban kids is culturally insensitive and doesn’t take into account their urban upbringing or experiences.  What next, teaching them Latin?”

All the world’s a stage and Shakespeare is a great teacher in any culture, as anyone who has spent time immersed in his works would know. I hereby sentence Clarke to several hours of community service to be spent watching and discussing Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood as “punishment.”

The commitment to new spending comes at an odd time for Milwaukee County, where conflicting priorities actually means the layoff of county sheriff deputies. As Clarke said in his press release criticizing the idea, at a time when the county is cutting back on deputies on the county buses, the $65,000 could mean an additional deputy back on patrol.

While Supervisor Gerry Broderick has indicated to the media that he hopes to secure private funding for the program, as of now the obligation appears to be solely on the county and the taxpayers. Perhaps Broderick should have lined up the private money first.

Then again, perhaps instead of sending juvenile delinquents to act out Shakespeare, we could send a few Milwaukee County Board members. Who among them couldn’t use a little, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be?”