True community will always trump PR
About 700 neighbors met and mingled on a gorgeous summer evening last night at Kadish Park in Riverwest. The talented local reggae band King Solomon serenaded the twilight as a sensational full moon rose over Milwaukee’s skyline.
COA Youth & Family Centers Executive Director Tom Schneider, who sponsored the Tuesday concert series, was positively euphoric. “This is our largest crowd ever,” he said. “Last week we counted 700 and this week we have even more people. And without a budget for publicity we rely on word of mouth and it seems to be working.”
Biking home I passed families, couples and small groups of neighbors carrying their blankets and picnic baskets home and I thought “Man, I’m lucky to live here.”
But as I turned onto my street I was suddenly reminded that nothing in life is perfect.
The makeshift shrine marking the site where a young UWM student was shot to death recently had been refreshed with lit candles. Two recent fatal shootings have besmirched Riverwest’s reputation as an oasis of peace and tolerance in our all-too-often troubled city. We knew it all along, but now there is little doubt that our beloved neighborhood isn’t immune to the problems facing everyone.
My sympathy goes to the families of the victims. As a parent, I shudder to imagine the grief caused by the death of a child. My musings and those of my neighbors on the implications such horrible crimes have on our safety and on the reputation of our community seem trivial and disrespectful compared to their loss.
But it would be even worse to allow such apparently random and senseless violence to destroy the sense of security and goodwill that has grown to symbolize Riverwest.
This is yet another teachable moment. The police have issued reminders about the steps people should take to reduce the risk of becoming crime victims. Try not to walk alone late at night. Do what you can to increase street lighting and cut back overgrown tree branches and other growth.
And, by all means, call the police if you see anything suspicious.
The police have also flooded the neighborhood with attention. Car, foot, bike and even horse patrols have increased. One recent afternoon, dozens of men and women in uniform assembled on my street for their daily roll call as a sign to the community of their commitment to our safety.
We know that this is all largely symbolic. If something happens once, chances increase that it will happen again.
But that is not to say that we must be scarred by random violence and live in fear.
Crime is a fact of life, particularly in cities, though suburbs and rural communities are not exempt. The lesson is to learn what we can do to make ourselves less of a target while also supporting the efforts of the police, other government agencies, and local neighborhood and business groups to reduce crime and promote safety.
It may be a coincidence, since the effort was in the works for about a year, but the Milwaukee Police Department happened to launch an ad campaign this week apparently designed to polish its image and help recruit future officers.
I think the effort is well-intentioned and I hope it succeeds, though I fear it misses its mark. For one thing, if the goal is to point out the reduction of crime, why use scary images of potential crime scenes where nothing happens? Most experts say the visual trumps the audio every time.
And the recruitment effort seems a mishmash of competing themes. The “Army of One” style music appears targeted to the generation of video game users who are attracted to a career that lets them zap bad guys for real. In contrast, the images of Officer Friendly types connecting with citizens, old and young, seem drawn from your typical Big Brother Big Sister public service announcement.
MPD enlisted the help of a major advertising agency on this and I imagine they did the standard focus-testing of the messaging. And, at my age, I know that I am low on their list of target demographics.
But I also know that all of the commercials and public relations stunts don’t add up to as much good for the community as a single well-attended concert on a picture-perfect summer night.