“Interrupters” panel discussion
Monday afternoon, civic leaders discussed a topic that all too often flies under our radar: Inner city violence.
The title of the panel, convened in Eckstein Hall at Marquette University, was On The Issues: War on Violent Crime in Milwaukee. The 2011 Milwaukee Film Festival arranged the event, in conjunction with the documentary film, The Interrupters, which focuses on inner city violence on Chicago’s south side. WISN’s Mike Gousha moderated panelists including Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, restorative justice advocate Ron Johnson, Safe and Sound Executive Director Barbara Notestein, Children’s Court Judge Joseph Donald, and Pedro Hernandez, a Marquette student and volunteer at the United Community Center. Mayor Tom Barrett and Ameena Matthews, a star of the film, were not on the panel but attended.
The discussion focused not on the film, but on the larger message the film conveys and how that relates to violent crime among young people in the city of Milwaukee. During the time of the discussion, an 18-year-old man was shot and killed on N. Palmer St. in Milwaukee.
Gousha broached the subject of the “flash mob” events at Wisconsin State Fair and the Riverwest BP station. Police Chief Flynn quickly reacted to this, placing at least some of the blame on the local television media who ran the videos repeatedly. He argued that these isolated events are less significant than the retaliatory violence that plagues the inner city.
Ninety-four homicides and 400 nonfatal shootings occurred in the City of Milwaukee in 2010, according to the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, compared with 72 homicides and 439 nonfatal shootings in 2009. The increase in homicides has been partially attributed to a rise in domestic violence shootings, Flynn said.
Data shows that most homicide victims and suspects are black males with criminal histories. More than 70 percent of homicides were committed with firearms and more than 80 percent took place in “lower socioeconomic status neighborhoods.”
“At a neighborhood level, crime causes poverty,” said Flynn, who also explained how changing norms of behavior takes the efforts of an entire community – not just the efforts of the police department – and the cycle of violence and poverty affects more than the people whose names show up in police reports.
Pedro Hernandez works closely with many individuals his age at the United Community Center on Milwaukee’s south side. He grew up with many of them. He explained that young people who have been affected by violent crime often don’t know how to deal with the hurt it brings, and may act out in violent ways.
Judge Donald said that people are becoming violent criminals at younger ages. He argued that certain mentalities – a “no snitching” attitude, for one – cause problems that ultimately lead to individuals cycling through the system instead of being rehabilitated. One challenge, as Judge Donald sees it, is to distinguish dangerous young people from those who are merely annoying.
This difficulty was also noted by Barbara Notestein and Ron Johnson, who expressed concerns about the ineffectiveness of correctional facilities. Hernandez and Ameena Matthews echoed that sentiment. Matthews said that young people must be exposed to different avenues in life that may not be apparent within the culture of the community.
“They’re not just bad people who need to be locked up,” she said.
“The challenge for us is to give hope,” said Mayor Tom Barrett, who spoke to close the discussion.
In a nation that loses more than 10,000 of its citizens to homicides every year, that won’t be easy. But discussion showed that violence is of grave concern to the people of Milwaukee. The solutions might not be obvious, but when people start asking questions instead of ignoring reality, answers become possible.