Op Ed

No Equality Without Specific Solutions

Yes, we need better policing and more opportunities for Black Americans. But how do we get there?

By - Sep 6th, 2020 09:43 am
George Floyd protest march on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

George Floyd protest march on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The outlaw protesters, whose aim is chaos, destruction and fear, are hurting the cause of the non-violent legitimate protesters who universally want “change.”

Beyond the imperative to completely shut down the perpetrators of violence, my quandary with legitimate marchers and their very general plea for change is: what does that word mean in real terms? There are many elements – social, economic, educational, law enforcement and spiritual – that underpin the unrest that is dividing our country.

The most immediate cause for anger and disillusion with American ideals in the Black community is the repeated incidents of heavy-handed policing. That has to change.

The sincere protesters simply want minorities to be treated with more respect, more judicious endorsement of laws, more measured use of force. How is that going to be built into our culture? The peaceful protests should help to change the mindsets of many, including people in law enforcement.

Next most important is police training. I talked with a person who represented police unions for 30 years in negotiating contracts. This experienced negotiator said the unions asked in every contract cycle for more training dollars and never got them.

Local officials can make that happen but need state and federal dollars to fund the higher level of training needed so officers can deal with the godawful situations that they face every day. No more talk- talk; let’s get it done.

The protests and boycotts by sports stars have greatly sharpened the point that change – though undefined – has to happen, and fast. But talk and dialogue only goes so far. Each of us, especially our leaders, has to actually do something to make our society a more equitable place.

Each professional player, mostly millionaires with a lot of time on their hands in the off season, could mentor boys and girls toward a good start on adult life. Some do; most don’t.

I used the metaphor of a Gordian knot as I tried over several decades to do my small part in improving the outcomes for people in the central city of Milwaukee. You try to untangle one strand at a time. Some initiatives worked; many didn’t for lack of funds and commitment.

Here are some examples: My late brother Mark worked for 15 years to get minority Milwaukee kids into college. It worked because it relied on heavy-duty mentoring from 8th grade on through the second year in college. A bus load of promising teenagers would travel to different Wisconsin college campus each month, like Carroll, Carthage, Alverno. They had fun, but also learned practical things like how to take notes, how to study, how to take a test, how to apply for college.

Each had mentoring all the way though. It worked famously. Almost nine of ten matriculated to college, with scholarships. Some 700 had gone through the program by the time Mark passed. Even though it really worked, the subsequent leadership of his foundation let the program lapse. They said they couldn’t find the money that Mark had raised. (They never really tried; I was never asked.)

Fortunately, two programs arose to take his place: College Promise and a similar Junior Achievement program. Memo to professional athletes and other leaders: both programs could use financial leadership and mentoring help. The scholarship funds are making real change.

Just as educating every child takes a village, every startup business takes a community. (I have been involved in starting 21 companies and know what it takes; it’s tough stuff.) Without much help from the city or major corporations, the entrepreneurial ecosystem has improved in Wisconsin.

But mostly I get a pat on the head from City Hall, the state Capitol and big corporations when I approach them for help. They all talk job creation, but there is not much follow-through. Result: relatively few startups in the central city.

Another example: Corporations, with government and partnerships, could give every kid a youth apprenticeship. Youth Apprenticeship programs (YAP) work wonders for getting kinds on the right track. The few YAP programs are still effective. (We had a program at Serigraph, but stepped back when recessions hit. With state help, we could have kept it going.) A broad state program with heavy mentoring would be a massive change of the right sort.

On educational challenges, UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Area Technical College and Milwaukee Public Schools have stepped up to greatly improve high school graduation rates. The M3 program of MPS is working. That change has to be maintained. It could be replicated across the state.

UWM is by far the most diverse campus in the UW System. But the system’s funding and policies, for such efforts as intensive remedial education in the freshman year, don’t do enough to help  UWM. UW System leaders need to walk the talk on diversity support with funding.

Another challenge unmet: health metrics have fallen sharply in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. An example: the birth rate for single mothers in Milwaukee is a scandal. Poor infant mortality rates and teen pregnancies are connected. Denver and the Susan B. Buffet Foundation have not ducked the single mother birth rate like Milwaukee has. An initiative there to promote Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCS) has drastically reduced the percentages. So has St. Louis.

Where are city leaders of all stripes, including public health leaders, on that pragmatic change? The lives of young mothers and babies are literally saved from a continuous cycle poverty and worse.

All told, there is a long list of needed changes — proven to be effective — that could move the needle on social and economic equity in our region.

When the protesters and their sympathetic supporters fade from the headlines, when the athletes go back to their games, how about moving past stating the problems to moving the chains toward specific goals.

John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. and a former Milwaukee Sentinel business editor who blogs regularly at johntorinus.com.

More about the 2020 Racial Justice Protests

Read more about 2020 Racial Justice Protests here

4 thoughts on “Op Ed: No Equality Without Specific Solutions”

  1. Neal Brenard says:

    This comment strays a long way from the central complaint of current protests in response to the police brutality that’s been going on for decades; that gets worse and worse as the years go on. It opens by defining down the reckless killing of unarmed citizens by public civil servants armed with guns to — “…heavy handed policing” –. It’s point of view is established right there: the murderous violence by police isn’t the problem in the eyes of Mr. Torinus. So he takes us into the weeds for another dozen paragraphs that purport to identify root causes of the “social, economic, educational, law enforcement and spiritual” issues that seem to focus all responsibility on the victims of police violence rather than the police.

    It’s a lazy, myopic analysis. The protesters, violent and otherwise, have a righteous message. It’s this: There are too many police, some badly trained or unqualified, but just way too many more than are needed to provide the service police are to provide. Reduce the size of the police force, and you reduce the number of cops on the street available to respond. How many squads and police are really needed to address someone that fell asleep in a car in a parking lot? 3, 4, 5, more?? Your comment here goes nowhere near the question of how ridiculously large is the amount of resources that are spent on maintaining a police force sized and trained for military maneuvers, not maintaining safety and peace in our cities and towns.

    Reduce the size of the force and you immediately reduce the likelihood of a low level disturbance escalating to the killing of an innocent black man. The police in our communities sometimes seem to be little more than a bloated, militarized security force for the powerful; and obedient to outside authorities, not the communities they’re meant to serve. This is what has to end first. Then, maybe then, more of the community problems this post is concerned about may be addressed without so terrorizing, oppressing, and killing the communities they are meant to serve.

  2. mkwagner says:

    Thank you Neal for speaking out. I too, was troubled by John Torinus’ comments. I believe his intent was to say that peaceful protesters have a point. In opinion, he went off the rails. Why is it that the responsibility for bringing the change rests with the protesters? Why is it that so many conservative business people believe POC are responsible for the conditions in which they are forced to live? The problem is, the violence and brutality against people of color have been going on for over 400 years. The first victims were the Indigenous peoples who lived in the Americas. Tribes like the Tanos were literally worked into extinction. That is why the Conquistadors and English land speculators needed to bring in slaves from Africa.
    John Torinus’ it is long passed time for wealthy white businessmen like yourself and Ron Johnson recognize that your wealth is tied to the wealth created by slaves, not for themselves but for you.
    This is not a problem that POC have to fix. The protests continue because wealthy white Americans choose not to accept their personal responsibility. Your editorial is not part of the solution. You continue to be part of the cause.

  3. Mingus says:

    I think the issue about training is what is taught in the training. Some police officers in responding to incidents seem to have a need to escalate the situation often following training instead of using common sense to find ways to deal with the incident without excessive force.

  4. frank a schneiger says:

    This was a John Torinus rollercoaster ride. At the outset, he makes two important points: that those who commit crimes while claiming to be protesting should be arrested and prosecuted (check); and that protesting is not an end in itself, what he calls “defining change” and I would call a vision for a better future (check).

    Then, as often happens, things go downhill pretty fast. Mr. Torinus digs in on the old training solution. I can think of a single word response to that section, but I think Urban Milwaukee would kick me out, along with my whole response, so I’ll try a different approach. Whenever training bumps up against organizational culture, norms and behaviors, it always loses. Even if the trainers and content aren’t immersed in the culture, the “old-timers” explain the facts of life to the trainees as soon as the program is complete. In Milwaukee-ese, the veterans “straighten them out.” It is not about training! It is about an organizational culture steeped in many decades of racial bigotry. And the sad reality is that we do not know how to change cultures.

    As in other cities, the keys and strategies to addressing the issue of racist policing are to build healthy, peaceful and just communities where the cops are marginalized, and also to defeat the police unions, to be far more careful in recruitment and to reward and acknowledge good police work and punish bad behaviors of both front line officers and supervisors.

    How do you build those healthy and peaceful communities? This is where the rollercoaster ride picks up speed again, and where Mr. Torinus hits the nail on the head. As he explains, what invariably happens in Milwaukee when issues of race and poverty are on the agenda is that little happens because of a “lack of funds and commitment.” His personal examples are excellent ones, and imagine what could happen if they were multiplied many times over. And also, if a whole generation of young leaders and talent were empowered and adequately resourced to deliver hope and transform communities rather than hang on for survival. One evidence of the success of that initiative would be that those making strategic decisions wouldn’t all be white businessmen and women.

    It is too bad that what should have been the lead in Mr. Torinus’ column – funds and commitment – is buried in the text. The pandemic has made all of our inequities and injustices clearer than ever, with regular assists from the cops and bad people to keep them front and center. Funds and commitment. Milwaukee’s prerequisite challenge is to address and overcome the deep-seated pessimism and mistrust that permeate all things racial. Then, to stop tinkering around the edges and to bring together government, business, philanthropy and the communities to overcome the the “lack of funds and commitment.” It may be complicated, but it is not rocket science. The answers about how to build a better future are all out there.

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