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Apartheid in Milwaukee: The Third World Inside America (The Hood Series)

 

Black Life in Milwaukee: The Third World Inside of America 

Surrounded in scenery of dilapidated houses, food and liquor stores;  crumbling infrastructure vandalized by RIP signs that pay tribute to the young victims of fratricidal gang warfare, Milwaukee rapper Gwapo Chapo from the neighborhood of Atkinson Ave spits  that his “Trynna Make it Out The Hood.”Chap’s lyrics represents a plea to transcend a life in wretched social conditions surrounded by economic deprivation, unemployment, poverty, gun violence, drug trafficking, high levels of infant mortality, food deserts, substandard education systems, dilapidated unaffordable housing, police brutality and continued forays with the criminal (in)justice system. To fully understand these wretched conditions that have imposed on black communities requires an examination of history which according to Malcolm X “is best qualified to reward our research.

A Historical Analysis of the Creation of Milwaukee’s Hoods 

In the city of Milwaukee, segregationist city planners placed African-Americans in The North Side  isolated from mainstream White America. In the early 20th century, most African Americans did not migrate to Milwaukee instead venturing to other cities such as Chicago and Detroit. After WWII, Milwaukee began to show a significant increase in its black population. As this happened, redlining and racial covenants only allowed African Americans to purchase homes in the inner city NorthSide “core” that was only limited to a small number of blocks.

As black leaders such as Vel Phillips protested these laws, the city later rioted in August of 1967 forcing a standoff between the black community and its allies and the European immigrant community along with the predominantly white city government. After the assassination of MLK, the Fair Housing Act was passed and racial covenants were declared unconstitutional.

Over the period of the next 50 years, Milwaukee’s black population increased to 40% due to migration from Mississippi and Chicago while a combination of mortgage discrimination, redlining, reverse redlining and white flight has lead the city to become more segregated with a common stereotype in the city “Black people live on the North Side, Latinos on the Southside and White people on the Eastside”. The inner core that black people were once confined to has now expanded in areas in which they were not able to purchase homes in.

Gentrification and Black Annihilation 

For those white people that don’t live in the suburbs of Milwaukee or the outskirts of the city such as West Allis or Greenfield Wisconsin, the main enclave is typically the East Side that is known as the most prosperous part of the city, home to numerous restaurants, tourist attractions, festivals, and art centers.

There is concern the building of the Bucks arena and street car is intended to displace many black communities near Downtown, in order to attract a more wealthier white populace. Riverwest and Harambee , two diverse communities in the Northeast have faced threat of gentrification.

African Americans were and are strategically placed in the region of the city known as “The North Side” 12 of the cities 14 most economically distressed zip codes have at least a population of 50% African Americans with the other two being primarily Hispanic.

Despite the passage of the Fair Housing Act, Milwaukee remains a hyper-segregated city that is reminiscent of a Third World Colony in many areas. Just recently it has been discovered that over 100,000 homes in the city have a problem with lead pipes and soil, primarily in near North Side zipcodes. 

Black Life in the Northside 

The North Side is known for its high levels of economic deprivation, unemployment, poverty, gun violence, drug trafficking, infant mortality, substandard education systems, dilapidated unaffordable housing,  forays with the criminal justice system, police brutality, food deserts, lack of mental health clinics, payday loan stores, and many more. It is not an exaggeration to say that every institution in Milwaukee has failed black people and is not designed for social mobility let alone humanity.

“There’s a difference in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, the state put us up for adoption” – For decades there has been an antagonistic relationship between Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin. Blacks in Milwaukee were systematically denied from gaining mortgages and home loans to live in suburbs in Wisconsin leaving suburbs such as Waukesha, Wauwatosa and others to be almost exclusively white. Even on a personal note, these areas are often met with much social hostility when black people venture there whether it be through traffic stops, profiling at stores, etc. On a political level the GOP State Legislature at Governor Scott Walker has continued a negative relationship with Milwaukee to appeal to his Republican base. Through the usage of dog whistle politics, tough on crime measures, voting ID laws, disinvestment for public education, union busting, etc Scott Walker under the dominion of the Koch Brothers has worked tirelessly to further an environment that only benefits the elites and bigots of Wisconsin

Drug Trafficking to Prison 

“The illegal drug trade is the common way in the City of Milwaukee’s African American community of providing the basic financial needs of many residents, and its mere presence is creating instability that is directly related to our violent crime statistics.” said Alderman Joe Davis from Milwaukee

After the deindustrialization that occurred in the 1970s and 80s, the jobless rate for African American males in the city rose to over 50%. With the heroin and crack epidemic emerging, along with migrations from Chicago gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings to name a few, the drug economy became one of the predominant sources of income in many of Milwaukee’s oppressed neighborhoods. With it of course is the violence that followed.

Today in Milwaukee while open air drug markets are still in abundance another form of drug dealing that has emerged is that of mobile drug dealing in which dealers use cars with tinted windows that are either stolen or rented to make drug deals all over the city. These transactions are made possible through the use of flip phones (trap phones) that are cheap and not easily detectable by the police, that allows the dealer to communicate with his customer. Due to Milwaukee’s proximity to plentiful predominantly white suburbs, the opioid epidemic has become extremely lucrative with heroin now replacing crack cocaine once again.

In the midst of this, Chapo states that his “tired of getting locked up.” For Black people in Milwaukee, constant forays with the criminal (in)justice system is a frequent reality. A study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee discovered that Wisconsin’s incarceration rates for Black males was double that of America’s  national average.  In particular, 1 of 8 Black men of working age in Milwaukee County has served some time in the state’s correctional facilities at some point in their lives. 

It is no surprise that Milwaukee is hailed as one of the worst cities for Black people in the United States; a city that has profiled and tazed one of its own basketball players. For African Americans and other oppressed populations in Milwaukee such as Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans, the do for self messages of the Organization For Afro-American Unity, Muslim Mosque Incorporated, Black Liberation Army,  The Nation Of Islam, The Uhuru Movement, and The Black Panther Party must be heeded in the sense that black people will have to fight at all cost against racism and capitalism along with adhering to the philosophies of self determination and political, social and economic control of our communities.

Black people in Milwaukee must begin to develop unity and end the social dysfunction that is awry so that radical strategies can be developed to solve these complex issues. The problems in Milwaukee and other cities across the country will not be solved by just politicians or college educated youth from these communities with reformist poltiics. It will require the entire community from the grandma on the block to community activists to even the street soldiers. The struggle in Milwaukee is more than laws and rights as Americans. It’s a struggle for black people to be recognized as humans and not seeds for exploitation and degradation.

Authors:

The Making of Chopper City: Black Life In New-Orleans (Hood Series)

In the public eye, New Orleans is a wonderful place to retreat for Mardi Gras parades; the eager tourists anticipate collecting beads and “Who Dat” souvenirs. Or they come to the Crescent City in anticipation of the annual Jazz-fest, topping their evening off by treating themselves to beignets in the French Quarters. At the heart of Bourbon Street, there are many clubs and bars providing much entertainment to sightseers. This is the New Orleans that attracts tourists far and wide! Yet, beyond these affluent attractions there exists another world that tourists do not dare journey into, and it is colloquially referred to as Chopper City.

The etymological origins of Chopper City are due to one fundamental reality: an AK-47 is needed for survival in these war zones. In Chopper City, there are excruciatingly high levels of poverty, the drug economy is dominant, and black on black violence is omnipresence. City planners do not devote nearly as much time to the well-being of Chopper City  as they do tourist attractions; while driving through streets riddled with potholes, choppers can be heard blasting. The Magnolia rapper Souljah Slim describing the consequences of this dire social neglect in Chopper City proclaims, “M’mma pray for her baby ‘cause I stayed in war.” Black youth are indeed at war, not only with one another, but with outside forces as well.

The declaration of Magnolia artist Lil Wayne which is ”a young nigga screaming f*ck the world,” is often perceived as anti-social; such messages are often why Hip-Hop artists are lambasted throughout the conservative media. Rappers are condemned for conveying negative social messages and embodying every flawed element of urban city culture: ignorant, rowdy, and violent. Yet, this s assertion of Lil Wayne is much deeper that one may suppose, as it demonstrates a fundamental fact about black existence in America: Lil Wayne has no choice but to put his middle finger up to the world; the world that he lives in is anti-black.

Following the Civil War, the black forefathers of the New Orleans artist endured a variety of repressive black code laws which intended to neworleansfreedomandindsolidify a white over black hierarchy. Within this post-plantation slavery period, the police of New Orleans were active Klansman who would terrorize the black community through lynching and even sexual assaults of black women.   Despite the fact that there was no source of employment for blacks, vagrancy laws were passed to prosecute unemployed blacks. These laws built the newly formed convict leasing system by ensuring that blacks would be used as slaves even after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This oppression ensured that whites would continue to benefit from the enslavement of blacks, and continue to amass vast wealth from black suffering.

In 1937, a racial caste system would be enforced by the New Orleans Housing Authority who explicitly established segregated housing for neworlean4blacks, intentionally putting them in areas most susceptible to flooding. Blacks were continuously segregated and their lives were treated as though they were worthless; in the sixties, chemical plants were constructed near black neighborhoods. This would work to ensure that toxic pollution contaminated the air that blacks had no choice but to breathe in. Through lyrics, Lil Wayne states, “Stuck in the hood like they put cement on us,” which is a reality: the planning of New Orleans was structured firmly upon a racist ideology that intended to segregate blacks into impoverished social neighborhoods.

“The presidential double R, call that Ronald Reagan.” Though Lil Wayne is able to enjoy cruising in a Rolls Royce due to the hip hop industry, Reagonomics trickled down and devastated the black community at large. Social services were drastically cut, and the tax code was constructed to favor the wealthy. In the eighties, due to Reagan, the dreaded figure of the “black criminal” emerged within political advertisements. White politicians would chastise black youth as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists and call for ‘law and order’ in order to protect the good, white citizenry. Within New Orleans, whites began settling in Slidell and other suburbs, the local black population would still be in segregated public housing. The wealth never actually did trickle down; instead, as jobs moved out of the inner-city, New Orleans began cutting back on social services. There would be little opportunity for social mobility for black Americans. Describing these hectic times, C- Murder describes his teenage years saying, ”I breaks bread with these baseheads,” indicating he had to sell coke to make ends meet.

poli43The dominant mode of life for black New Orleans residents consisted of selling drugs, evading the police, and going in and out of prison. Eventually, the New Orleans Police Department declared a ‘War on Drugs’ against black youth. C-Murder, growing up in these repressive times, describes ”on the spot money bustin’ out my socks, boy its hot and now these cops on my jock, boy.” Though the drug economy is quite profitable, black youth must successfully evade the police to survive. As Mayor Sidney Barthemely lost control of the Police Department, their increasingly corrupt practices would classify them as nothing more than another gang.

benardhousingPolice would routinely rob drug dealers for quick cash, and even plant drugs on innocent blacks and bring them up on false charges. Police brutality became the norm; black mothers living in housing projects feared their small children would be brutalized by police, thus, even when there was genuine problems in their housing projects, they were hesitant to call the police. The police corruption within the city was so notorious that African-American Marc H. Morial became mayor by campaigning on the platform that he would overhaul the entire department. But, even as a black mayor, the city planning, institutions, and all other facets of New Orleans had been set up to discriminate and oppress African-Americans. This institutionalized racism would not be something that his administration could overcome. The years of discriminatory public housing, years of disenfranchisement, and police repression would concentrate both anti-social behavior and poverty in the black community, and this would be showcased during Hurricane Katrina with helpless blacks drowning in water or stranded on top of roofs begging for help.

In the next article, we will demonstrate how the impact of Hurricane Katrina more severely impacted blacks due to the racist urban planning. We will also take a look at institutionalized racism in the post-Katrina era.

References

Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African Mmerican activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina by Leonard N Moore

How Do Hurricane Katrina’s Winds Blow?: Racism in 21st-century New Orleans  By Liza Lugo