In the wake of news coverage of a particularly bloody weekend in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods, public officials talk stern nonsense and call for swift action that will do no good.
PR-mobile to the rescue
When bullets are sprayed around a crowded public park on Memorial Day, sending hundreds of children and family picnickers fleeing in terror, it gets the attention of politicians.
When such a horrific event occurs during an unusually blood-soaked holiday weekend in Milwaukee marked by 28 separate shootings, the political opportunism explodes like a supernova lighting up the skies for miles around.
Republican Congressman Mark Green, running for governor, blamed Governor Jim Doyle for not coming to Milwaukee to put a stop to the violence. Green didn't bother to say what action the governor could have taken.
Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher and former U.S. Attorney J.B. Van Hollen, Republicans running for state attorney general, said, no, they were pretty sure the violent crime was the fault of state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.
Bucher and Van Hollen seem to be under the impression the attorney general can act as a police state czar, sending storm troopers into trouble spots around the state to shoot the guns out of the hands of perpetrators.
Someone should tell them the job they are seeking mostly consists of providing legal advice to the state and filing environmental and consumer protection lawsuits.
Democrat Vince Bobot and Republican Don Holt, running for Milwaukee County sheriff, at least had the right jurisdiction. They blamed Sheriff David Clarke Jr. for cutting park patrols in the county.
But it was Sheriff Clarke, of all people, who actually dared to tell the public the truth about the limited ability of heavy-handed law enforcement to prevent violent acts between individuals.
In a momentary break from political pandering, Clarke said it was the "All-American fairy tale" to believe that law enforcement could have prevented the kind of domestic violence that burst into gunfire at South Shore Park.
The man being sought in that shooting is Octaviano Juarez-Corro, who had been served with divorce papers last month by his wife. Juarez-Corro reportedly approached a large family picnic that included his estranged wife and her new boyfriend and began firing point blank at adults and children.
"If a person is hell bent on that, it's hard to interrupt it," Clarke said. He said such tragedies could happen anywhere, in a home, a workplace or a public park, and there was very little law enforcement could do about it.
No doubt Clarke was speaking defensively because of all the political hay his opponents were making over his cutting of park patrols. But the truth of what he was saying exposed all the meaningless rhetoric of other politicians in the wake of the shootings.
Clarke was right. By the time the police arrive, it's almost always too late. A tragedy has already occurred.
The most meaningful response may have been the $500,000 Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced for a teenage job program. But politicians were literally falling all over one another to promise more police.
Doyle announced $200,000 for more police and said he would seek another $1 million from the Legislature for even more. Barrett and Police Chief Nan Hegerty promised more police for high crime areas.
In a cruel irony for those who want political leaders to focus on root causes of crime such as poverty and educational inequality, the city's Bookmobile, which no longer delivers books to poor neighborhoods, is being converted into a mobile police command post to ship more police into those neighborhoods instead.
Then even Sheriff Clarke stopped telling the truth and promised more park patrols. He said he would reassign deputies and spend $230,000 more in overtime to create a new unit to patrol parks and buses. He promised that up to 50 deputies would "occupy" the lakefront on summer weekends.
Milwaukee already has more police per capita than other major cities. Murder is a crime that already has an extremely high rate of arrest and prosecution. Flooding the streets with more police officers can't possibly push it much higher.
The inevitable result of all the heavy policing promised by politicians won't be to cut homicides. It will be to increase arrests for minor violations.
That will continue to sweep more and more poor people into a criminal justice system that already imprisons a higher percentage of African Americans than any other state in the union. That means even fewer adult black males in the community. That means more young black males who won't be able to imagine any other future for themselves than going to prison.
It also means another generation of convicted felons returning to black and Latino communities without job prospects and without hope.
Believing more policing will solve all our problems may be the All-American fairy tale, but it's not one with a happy ending.
June 11, 2006
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Joel McNally lives in Milwaukee, is a FightingBob.com contributing editor, and is a syndicated columnist who writes for the Capital Times, the Shepherd Express and other newspapers.