Roy Evans
Op Ed

Where’s the Change in Sherman Park?

Not much has improved since 2016 disturbances. The buck stops with Mayor Barrett.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Aug 27th, 2017 05:53 pm
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Community members gather in Sherman Park for a “Back to School Bash” in memory of Sylville Smith, on the first anniversary of his death. Photo by Keith Schubert.

Community members gather in Sherman Park for a “Back to School Bash” in memory of Sylville Smith, on the first anniversary of his death. Photo by Keith Schubert.

I was asked to do a follow up to a letter I wrote to the mayor after the Sherman Park disturbance a year ago, which was published in the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. I was asked to address this question, “Since the Sherman Park disturbance, have you seen signs of change?”

That, in fact, is a loaded question and has many answers. Change has always been and will always be in constant motion. So yes, there have been many changes in Sherman Park and other African-American neighborhoods in the past year. But, the real question should be, “How significant have these changes been to eradicate the underlying issues that sparked the black community’s outrage that turned into expressions of anger and violence?” How do you measure change? How much change is required or, in some instances, is change even desired?

The impact of change should always be more important than the mere fact that change has occurred. That being said, in my opinion, no significant changes have taken place to address the root causes of inequality and disparity that are entrenched in Milwaukee’s economic or socio-political fabric. This is the reality that is hard to collectively see, let alone overcome.

As I see it, nothing has changed to alter the grip of systemic racism. (To get rid of a dandelion you have to eradicate it at the root. If not, it will continue to grow and sprout more dandelions.) The stress of disparity breeds contempt. Poverty is at an all-time high. Nothing has changed to make the community feel safer. Crime continues to plague some neighborhoods, which creates manufactured fears that turn racial stereotypes into self-fulfilling realties. Fake facts are turned into realities that maintain the status quo of a physically, mentally and spiritually unhealthy community. There is in fact a health crisis in the African-American community.

Jobs and economic independence and stability go hand in hand with training, education and opportunity. Changes have had no impact on our public schools’ curriculum, which should require a higher standard for logical thinking and problem solving from our students, who are rapidly becoming adult citizens and will be trapped in a negative spiral of disparity without these skills.

Let me be clear, some change has occurred based on sincere efforts to make Milwaukee and Sherman Park a better place and those efforts should be recognized and applauded. But change has to be a part of the core fabric of the Milwaukee community. This requires intellectual discourse and hospitable venues to meet and share observations, suggestions and ideas.

The construction of the freeway through the heart of the black community eliminated many institutions where we could plot, plan and carry out revolutionary protests against acts of disempowerment and disparity. The marches and demonstrations of the ‘60s are now merely historical images of Black Power and a reminder of our continued struggle for freedom and equality. Fifty years later why are we still in need of marches, demonstrations and black empowerment?

For the second year in a row Milwaukee has been designated “the worst city in America for African-Americans to live.” What does this tell us? If nothing, we are doomed. I am convinced that there are enough brilliant minds and expertise in this community to resolve any disparity problems Milwaukee may have. But I don’t see a sincere desire, will or collective vision in place to bring about substantive change. Slight changes are good but are only pieces of a much larger puzzle. We can’t solve the problems if we don’t have a whole picture that we can collectively see.

This is not meant to be a letter to the mayor or a critique of his priorities but, in my opinion, change starts at the top. The vision of the City of Milwaukee comes through tangible leadership and guidance from the mayor’s office. The mayor is a great guy and we have shared a long-standing personal and professional friendship but, if I were mayor I would want to know why my city is the worst city in America for African- Americans. Is this an embarrassment or something to be proud of? We cannot have it both ways and we cannot continue to ignore it. We need more than superficial changes as a response to spontaneous violence over long-standing legitimate grievances. We need a plan to be put in place with a mission to eradicate inequality and disparities.

With the current dysfunctional presidency and the deliberate dismantling and misdirection of our country back to the policies of the Jim Crow era it is of critical importance that Milwaukee take bold steps to make long overdue changes — substantial changes to propel us into a future that our past cannot overtake. The impact of change will always be more important than the mere fact that change has occurred.

Roy Evans, an attorney in private practice and an advocate on issues related to the rights and responsibilities of the African-American community, reflects on Sherman Park a year after the death of Sylville Smith at the hands of a Milwaukee police officer.

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

7 thoughts on “Op Ed: Where’s the Change in Sherman Park?”

  1. Ben says:

    I thought the Office of African American Affairs was going to fix all this….

  2. Steve says:

    What about personal responsibility? Why is it always up to someone else to fix the problems that exist in black communities all over the city? How about taking some responsibility and fixing the issues yourself. It’s the presidents problem….it’s the governors problem…..it’s the mayors problem…..NO, it’s Sherman Park’s problem and the community that trashed their own neighborhood.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yes only black communities expect outside help. White communities refuse all external assistance. Some cynical and ignorant posts this morning.

  4. Toni Wagner says:

    The Sherman Park residents have not trashed their own area. We home onwers are very proud of this community and are continuing to work hard to maintain. Do a major walk and talk to the residents to find out the truth. The neighborhoods seem to be forgotten as so much money and effort is put into downtown. How about fixing the streets and doing something about speeding and crime.

  5. Jerry says:

    I am a big believer that the people living in the neighborhoods make the difference. Just look at how people drive in different neighborhoods. What is tolerated by the people who live there? The police are there to help. My lifelong experience has been, when I call on the police for help, they help. They can be trusted, because I am a law-abiding citizen. For example, if I see a car speeding in my neighborhood, I write down the license plate # and call the police. They may not stop the person, by the time they are no longer in my neighborhood, but there is now a record of that person’s activity. It is the residents of the neighborhoods that are to do the self-policing, with the help of the city police, when needed. My neighborhood is not a place for a lot of people to live, because they would not like the people living there. Result = zero to no crime, very quiet, very safe and very boring.

  6. Rich says:

    @Jerry: I commend your efforts to use the tools available to you, but in my experience, calls to MPD about things that can’t be immediately addressed by racing high-adrenaline cops to the scene don’t seem to warrant their attention and I’m met with so many questions and general disdain from the operators that those calls seem pretty useless. There are three layers to get through to actually get non-emergency response: Operator (takes calls, sets initial priority?) ==> Dispatcher (assigns calls to squads based on priority, maybe re-prioritizes) ==> Squad (actually responds)

    Flynn claims he practices data-driven policing, but I’ve yet to see it really work on the hyper local level you describe.
    Concerned residents of this city sure could use a good sales pitch from them on how they measure that it works.

    For instance, in my area, there’s a often dark place between two building where prostitutes direct their johns to drive to. They’re almost never there long enough for the cops to come close to actual intercept, the one time they did, there was enough of a story that the people were let go, and all I can observe for an outcome is that a squad will drive by at a completely different time of day and the cars still hide there after dark…essentially no change despite roughly 30 calls a year to the same address for the same activity, so real easy to get discouraged.

  7. Jerry says:

    @Rich: I hear what you are saying, but I still believe that if enough law-abiding people in your neighborhood worked together, the prostitution would go somewhere else. It might sound ballsy, but why not take a notebook and sit in your car near the spot where the activity is taking place and write down ALL of the license plate #s of the people coming an going. I know, this could be time consuming and the activity is going on probably around 1am, but if enough of your neighbors took turns doing this, these prostitutes and their johns would find a less visible place to do business. The cops can’t be everywhere at all times, thus self-policing or call it a neighborhood watch is the key. Take your notes to Flynn and give him some real evidence and then the city council to get a light installed in that spot. Whatever you do, don’t turn a blind eye.

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