Aug 25, 2016
August 24, 2016
Jointly Authored By Shawn Dove and Anthony Smith
With the events in Milwaukee, we watched as yet another U.S. city grieves the loss of a Black man to a police-involved shooting. In the aftermath of the death of Sylville Smith in Milwaukee, grief quickly turned to outrage, protest and uprising. Our hearts are broken to see this reality unfolding once again for our community, but we are not surprised. As in Ferguson and too many other cities, this incident revealed the hidden and harsh daily realities of being African American in our country.
Wisconsin has the highest number of Black men in prison, with 1 out of 8 in prison or jail as of the 2010 census. One of the most segregated cities in the United States, Milwaukee’s Black residents largely live in the Northside community where Sylville Smith was killed and subsequent unrest broke out. Black men in Milwaukee face a homicide rate nearly three times the rate for the general population. Just over a third of men in the Northside between ages 20 and 64 are employed, compared to 78 percent for the city overall. Almost half of residents live below the poverty line, compared to 28 percent in the whole of Milwaukee.
These glaring disparities did not happen overnight. It is inevitable that Milwaukee’s young Black men would find themselves without hope and opportunity in a community that lacks options for a better life.
Real efforts, led by committed community organizations and city leaders, have been underway in Milwaukee to turn the tide. For example, our two organizations have partnered with groups like the League of Young Voters, Public Allies, Urban Underground and youth activists. We’ve worked with Milwaukee leaders like Howard Fuller, Reggie Moore and Deanna Sigh to elevate targeted interventions for Black men and boys. We have also engaged the mayor, local government agencies and others to create opportunity for African American men and boys, particularly in the Northside.
In addition, Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention takes a public health approach to reducing violence, working with a wide range of community partners including Medical College of Wisconsin, Family Justice Center, Homicide Review Commission and Community Justice Council. They recently expanded a Safe Zone initiative that identifies people who live in neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence and provides them with the tools they need to interrupt and stop gun violence on their own block including mediation, conflict resolution and de-escalation.
But the events in Milwaukee show us we must do more, and move faster. We must dismantle the policies and address the lack of resources that stand as barriers to opportunity and push Black men to the fringes of our communities in Milwaukee and beyond.
We must build trust and strengthen relationships between police and communities. In Philadelphia an uptick in police-involved shootings prompted an invitation to the Department of Justice to review the police department’s use of force policy in 2015. The department shifted its policy to require de-escalation to prioritize the preservation of life, with bans on choke holds and similar practices. Officers who witness inappropriate or excessive use of force by a fellow officer are duty-bound to report it. The policy shift has contributed to a drop in police-involved shootings.
Mayors and city leaders can also look to President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Already cities are implementing Task Force reforms including Police Chief W.H. “Skip” Holbrook in Columbia, South Carolina where they have established a civilian oversight council, improved officer trainings to include de-escalation, conflict resolution and implicit racial bias and launched a program for youth and police to hold open and honest dialogue.
We believe change is possible when mayors and police chiefs engage with community members and youth leaders to authentically address and eradicate the systemic racism that has resulted in distressing life outcomes for Black men and boys as well as Black women and girls. Then begins the collective, inclusive process of identifying solutions and investing in policies and programs to build healthier, more vibrant, safe and hopeful communities.
The lessons of Ferguson and Baltimore, and now Milwaukee, reminds us those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Our hope is that we can use this moment as rallying call for all who have the power to make a difference—from mayors, city leaders and police chiefs to local and federal agencies, youth, philanthropy and communities—to invest in systems change that improves life outcomes for all of our children, particularly young Black women and men. Milwaukee’s future depends on it—as does our nation’s.
Shawn Dove serves as the CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA), a national membership organization dedicated to ensuring the growth, sustainability and impact of leaders and organizations focused on improving the life outcomes of America’s Black men and boys. Started by the Open Society Foundations in 2008 as the nation’s largest philanthropic initiative on this issue, Dove’s stellar management has propelled CBMA into becoming an independent entity, growing its membership to more than 4,800 leaders representing over 2,600 organizations nation-wide.
Anthony D. Smith – Executive Director, Cities United – a national mayor lead initiative focused on eliminating the violence in American cities related to African American men and boys. Before joining Cities United, Anthony led the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods for Mayor Fischer and the city of Louisville. Anthony is committed to creating positive outcomes for all youth, with a focus on young black men and boys. Throughout his professional career, Anthony has made it a priority to cultivate up and coming leaders.