As Dan O’Donnell reports, Milwaukee’s homicide rate is now higher than Chicago’s. So why are city leaders trying to mask how bad the problem really is?
August 22, 2018
Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
A few years ago, a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher friend saw a painting crew in her school’s main hallway, working feverishly on a wall that looked as though it hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in at least two decades.
“The superintendent is coming for a visit,” her principal told her excitedly. “And we’re getting the school ready for her.”
To the teacher’s surprise, though, the entire school wasn’t being repainted; just the main hallway. When then-Superintendent Darienne Driver came for her visit two days later, the principal made sure that she stayed in that main hallway and only visited the few classrooms that had been selectively repainted and made presentable.
The rest of the school, the teacher said, remained “a dump.” In other words, her principal had only bothered to take care of the few areas of the school that she would allow Superintendent Driver to see. The rest would be left in shambles.
Such is the Milwaukee way, apparently, as Mayor Tom Barrett has employed a similar strategy for the entire city: Put a new coat of paint on the downtown area and leave the north and south sides in a state of urban decay.
Car thefts and prostitution are rampant on Milwaukee’s south side, while its north side is so violent that it led the city’s murder rate in August to significantly top that of Chicago, which has attracted headlines for its exceptionally violent summer.
With 16 August homicides and a population of 595,351, Milwaukee’s homicide rate for the month is 2.69 per 100,000 people. Chicago, meanwhile, has seen 40 murders in a city of 2.7 million for a homicide rate of 1.48 per 100,000.
For the year, Milwaukee’s homicide rate is actually slightly higher than that of a city infamous for its mean streets. Surprisingly, Milwaukee’s are meaner, as its homicide rate for 2018 is 12.77 per 100,000 people compared with Chicago’s 12.72 per 100,000.
The violence couldn’t have come at a worse time for Mayor Barrett: Officials from the Democratic National Committee are coming to scout Milwaukee as a possible location for the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
Never doubt Milwaukee’s ability to throw a fresh coat of paint on its violence problem, though. As the body count has mounted, city leaders have…held a few meetings with the Office of Violence Prevention. Instead of saturating problem areas with increased police patrols, demanding tougher sentences from Milwaukee County judges, and an end to sweetheart plea deals from the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Mayor Barrett held a couple of meetings and a self-congratulatory press conference Monday about what a great job new Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales has been doing.
Herein lies the problem for the Mayor. If he wants to attract his party’s national convention (and the estimated $200 million in business that it will bring), he can’t demand more police officers on Milwaukee’s streets since Democrats don’t want more police officers on America’s streets. He can’t demand tougher prison sentences since Democrats want far fewer people in prison (and even go so far as to call for mass prisoner releases). He can’t call for an end to sweetheart plea deals since Democrats believe the justice system is inherently racist.
So the Mayor is left with a bucket of paint and empty platitudes about “the community coming together to stop the violence.” If the next meeting doesn’t solve Milwaukee’s murder problem, then maybe the next press conference will. Failing that, at least the public and the press will be placated until the next murder so horrific that it sparks the next round of meetings and press conferences.
The paint is chipping, though, and it’s clear that this strategy of trying to keep Milwaukee’s troubled areas hidden from view just isn’t working. It might not attract the Democratic National Convention, and it might not be an attractive option for a Democratic mayor, but a dramatically increased police presence and an end to extreme leniency in plea deals and sentencing are needed now more than ever.