Venice R. Williams
Op-Ed

Unrest in City Began Decades Ago

It is destructive systems, not property, that need to be burned down.

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Police Line Do Not Cross. Photo by Devante' Coleman.

Police Line Do Not Cross. Photo by Devante’ Coleman.

Each night, I put my head on my pillow with city sirens as my background music. On the weekend, it was a symphony.

Let us be clear: the “unrest” in this city began decades ago. Throughout my 27 years of serving this city consistently, even when flawed, I have been holding spaces for healing, bridge building, supporting small businesses and dreams, training a new workforce, challenging systems, nurturing families, strengthening girls, fostering healthy passages for brown and black boys. They are spaces that encourage naming, not labeling; spaces that set tables of dignity in the midst of a broken humanity.

If we are to be honest in the light of day, where truth should illuminate, we must confess, we have not all been about the same business. As I have been about the work I am called to do, others have constructed more unaffordable housing in neighborhoods, where people who look like me could, once upon a time, afford to live. Others have deconstructed life-supporting employment and reconstructed a system of welfare that will continue to cripple generations of urban families. Funding for incarceration increased alongside decreased resources for holistic, artistic public education for our children. Even some of the leaders and organizations our urban village birthed and trusted, lost track of their mandate.

Earlier this year, I invited the community to gather at The Body and Soul Healing Arts Center to revisit the film “Crash.” The center sits in the Sherman Park neighborhood and is home to many incredible organizations that hold events, programs, classes and conversations that foster a more robust, vibrant Milwaukee. I am honored to midwife that space.

My appeal to come gather and view “Crash,” and then join a conversation co-facilitated by Adam Carr and me, was made with a clear understanding that unrest was stirring in our neighborhoods. The matches had already been struck and the fire was being flamed. That which is illuminated should not have to be torched for pertinent attention to be paid and rightful action to be taken.

Calm is the absence of confrontation. So much needs to be confronted in this city and in this nation. Yet, it is systems, not property, that need to be “burnt down.” We are capable of confronting without being violent and destructive but we can no longer be calm. We have been restless for a long time; too long. What happened in Milwaukee Saturday night has very little to do with the shooting of a black man by a police officer. Although participants chose a distressing way to express their frustration and anger and I do not agree with the choices made, the folks who awakened the city of Milwaukee on the weekend did not strike the first match. Those matches were struck decades ago and the flames have been fed by policy and power, racism and classism, apathy and intentionality. Let something purposeful rise from the ashes.

Venice Williams is the director of Alice’s Garden and The Body & Soul Healing Arts Center. A lay minister, teacher, healer, and facilitator who works to improve the lives of young people, formerly incarcerated people and others in the central city, Williams says the recent violence in Sherman Park is not about the incident that sparked it.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

Photo Gallery by Devante’ Coleman

17 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Unrest in City Began Decades Ago”

  1. Virginia Small says:

    Thanks, Venice Williams, for this profound and moving commentary. And thanks for all the positive change you have been promoting for decades in Milwaukee.

  2. Daniel says:

    Where does that positive change come from? The problem of power and denial is manifest in scared white folks and their flight to the suburbs. They all claim to not be racist, and love black people, yet they fundamentally DO have a problem with the situation. They fled, and took their money and job opportunities with them, What’s left? Poor neighborhoods that are left to fend for themselves, while the lion’s share of wealth and resources are long gone. When the affluent complain about paying taxes, what they are really saying to the underprivileged is “you are on your own, pick yourself up by your bootstraps, what’s wrong with you?”
    To build a new path forward requires the resources to be directed at programs that truly incentivise growth and independence; namely education, and skill building. The suburban folks love to make fun and dismiss the plight of those beneath them. It’s time they realize their role in the cause and the solution to this systematic elephant in the room.

  3. happyjack27 says:

    i don’t think its fair to disparage people just because they live in a suburb.

    suburbs are nice places to live. a lot quiter and more peaceful.

    Also i dont really see them making fun of people. you’re just making that up.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Maybe the harsh words about folks from the suburbs is in response to people in WOW counties saying they don’t care about Milwaukee, which many of them do, here and elsewhere. But yes not all suburban people are like this.

  5. Daniel says:

    happyjack27
    I think you need to study a little history. Your suburban ‘peace’ is a charade. Why do you think Trump resonates so strongly in your ‘hood? Because there is fear, guilt, and dis-ease in the collective subconscience of suburban folks. That’s my guess.
    And yes, happyjack27, suburban Republicans I know, DO make fun of the plight of those less fortunate. I will testify to that personally.

  6. happyjack27 says:

    Oh if you’re talking about Republicans, that’s different.

    For that there is plenty of empirical evidence.

    Even their politicians say crazy offensive stuff. And then they vote for those people!

  7. Daniel says:

    Well happyjack27, it looks like we have found some common ground after all. Sorry to paint with such a broad brush, but based on basic statistics, census, and voting data, suburbs are overwhelmingly white and Republican.

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    Especially in WOW counties.

  9. Jason says:

    Happyjack, if you recall the spring election the WOW counties voted down Trump by a 2–1 margin. Ted Cruz was their choice and in smaller numbers John Kasich of Ohio. One of the reasons Trump is performing so bad in Wisconsin is his lack of enthusiasm in the WOW counties. Also, Hillary is performing well in the Green bay-Oshkosh market. If were going to raise taxes in Wisconsin to benefit the poor your eventually going to have to raise taxes on the upper middle class (ie, teachers, lawyer, engineers, first responders) Taxes the rich to death sounds good but eventually they just leave and you get nothing.

  10. happyjack27 says:

    not sure why you mentioned all thos stats — it’s not like cruz or kasich are that much better than trump.

    but on your final note, no – we had much higher taxes on the wealthy and (and im not talking just pre-bush-tax-cuts) and everything was great.

    http://i158.photobucket.com/albums/t106/OnlyObvious/Tax_Rates/TopTaxBracket_TaxRate_600.jpg

    so no, your made up appeal to consequences falls flat when you look at the data.

  11. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    We have people upset in Milwaukee, for decades, because of their treatment. The state provides adequate funds to run the city, MPS, county but they all get swallowed up by the pork chops, handed out by the white, male, liberal, racist that run the city. People know when they are the priority. People like Vince Hannah and others, of this ilk, ignore the needs of the Hispanic, inner city people for the downtown, east side and big campaign donors.
    We need to give kids from he inner city proper education and get jobs into them instead of driving businesses out to other counties by their idiotic left wing, antibusiness anti entrepreneur rhetoric. Jobs are provided by business not the dope Lefties.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    Um sorry but I have nothing to do with big campaign donors. Your buddy Scott Walker knows all about doing the bidding of big campaign donors though. Diane Hendricks or WMC says jump and Scott says how high. And the only time he talks about Milwaukee and the problems in the inner city is either to bash the city or when something happens and he has no choice but to address it. Otherwise Milwaukee and its problems are not on his list of concerns. Like the people at the West Bend Trump rally, he really doesn’t care about Milwaukee.

  13. Wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Typical left wing respnose. Walker not in charge of MPS, Milwaukee city. It has all bee the Left for 116 years.

  14. Vincent Hanna says:

    Hey you are the one always bringing up big campaign donors, and you are the one always droning on and on about how terrible Milwaukee is. Where is leadership from the governor when it comes to his state’s largest city? Is Walker governor of the entire state WCD or just WOW counties?

  15. Daniel says:

    @Wisconsin conservative digest
    YOU fail to acknowledge the history of the US and how slavery and racism takes their toll systematically on the lives of all of us, most abusively towards black people. You seem to be lacking one thing that is fundamental in the healing process; EMPATHY. You can only see things through your little lens, and fail to grasp the scope of the problems.

  16. Jason says:

    Daniel thankyou for pointing out the obvious. All Americans know that only the native American has a history that is as oppressive as the black experience. Black history also has an odd relationship with the federal government as much as government has assisted by giving a hand to the black experience it has also given the fist by subjugating them to poor schools,stripping the father figure out of the home, giving individuals victim status and providing few opportunities for employment. Compare this with most other immigrant stories of fear of government and sense of pride and opportunity.

  17. Wisconsin conservative digest says:

    More worthless BS, fix the problems now, not dwell on past. No wonderr the Left cannot ever run things. Read Deming, learn something.
    Tweet years from now you will still be whining and nothing will change. Los more kids while you proselytize.

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