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Owning Milwaukee’s Tragedy


Owning Milwaukee’s Tragedy

Fredrick McKissack Jr.

In a nation that clings to the notion that we live in a shining city upon a hill, the shooting death of Sylville Smith on a Milwaukee street, the fiery response by the black community, the scorching rhetoric from the press and the sheriff, the heated replies by everybody with a computer are all unsettling our basic sense of ourselves.

Milwaukee is Baltimore is Ferguson is Los Angeles is Detroit.


Systemic racism, injustice, inequality, are issues so vast and so deep it's hard to get your mind around it all but that is what must be done.
They are issues that must be in our hearts, minds, at the voting booth, in our actions, and in activism. No justice, no peace.


I recall the police claiming Smith had an 'arrest record', I don't recall any claim that he had any actual convictions though. Neither does the author of this piece detail any convictions, or provide links. Highly unsatisfactory. This young man had a firearms permit. Wouldn't convictions have precluded that?

The fact this young man had an arrest record but not a record of convictions is far more likely due to oppressive policing. Until someone can link to a string of convictions to go with the arrests, he could be as innocent as Philando Castile, even if less 'appealing' because there aren't a thousand children and their families singing his praises.


BUT! He was stopped for driving "suspiciously," which I doubt is an offense anywhere in Milwaukee ordinances. The cop could not have known when he stopped him that he had a gun, let alone whether it was stolen (and I've heard that only from you, here). The cop created the incendiary situation by stopping Smith for no good reason. Yes, Smith escalated it by getting out of the car with his gun. But the ownership of the gun was as irrelevant as his record, because none of it could be known at the start of the incident. We have to stop making excuses for what starts these situations and blaming the one who winds up dead.


This is a pretty good idea, but I wish you'd speak in first-person singular and not presume that you speak for "the general public." We also need, as Fredrick McKissack said in the article, to learn more about the struggles of Black people in poor neighborhoods, of White people in poor regions. We need to answer McKissack's call to become more informed about the struggles of our brothers and sisters, whether they struggle with historic segregation and neglect or the death of the industrial monoculture that once exploited their labor. We need to learn to care for each other and not spend our energies on beating the dead.


Stop presuming your life is "normal." Yes, we all have our struggles, but we must understand that mortgages, car payments, insurance, even contemplating college, let alone having enough excess income to save for it, are marks of privilege. McKissack is calling us here to recognize that privilege and make the effort to see the struggle of making the rent, finding a job that you can get to somehow, and keeping your kids, especially your sons, alive long enough to get any education at all. Our struggles are not all that different, but we have to be willing to see them.


Driving around Gallup NM these past few days, observing. Young men lounging on corners, sitting on the edge of sidewalks, talking, obviously with nothing to do. Ramshackle houses everywhere. A dying town. yet, in the hills around the downtown area, mansions, gates, BMWs. I think about these young men whose future is so uncertain, whose opportunities to obtain that which they can clearly see around them are seriously limited. Young people with few real opportunities become angry young people. They want security, good jobs, to build wealth, families. Anger and hopelessness sometimes manifest in impulsive, not well-thought-out decisions, or push kids into joining gangs, grabbing what they can, hitting back at society. Focusing on shootings and bad cops is just discussing the festering sore on the surface of the diseased body. This isn't going to get any better, unless we invest serious energy into transforming an economic system that is ravaging humanity to benefit a very few.


What you are saying is that if we want a society worthy of the term "society," we have to make sure we close up the economic spectrum between our poorest and our richest. This should not be a radical idea, because without mechanisms for leveling the outcome between the poorest and the richest, there is no such thing as democracy or liberty: can't be done.
Every child born American deserves, I mean has a right to, and deserves:
1) All the good clean nutritious food it can hold.
2) Decent clothing and safe, warm, private shelter.
3) All the healthcare it needs.
4) All the education it can use.
Meet those basic rights for every American child in this generation, and the next generation won't need so much patronizing "understanding" from privileged folks like me.
That said, let me add this, as a southern white man who remembers the end of segregation. If white people's kids were being shot down in the streets and parks by trigger happy cops of any color, this country would be burning down right now, from one end to the other. I am awestruck and moved by the restraint of a people so mistreated for so long. What voice have they got but the torch? How can we expect them to sit still and wait to die in those filthy urban deserts? Sylville and his kind are in trouble for the same reason John and his friends are going to college: they are too smart to play dumb and sit on their hands. They're going to take the opportunities they are given, goddamn it. Is that so hard to understand?