Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Sociology Professor: Milwaukee Riots Not a Surprise

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Sociology Professor: Milwaukee Riots Not a Surprise

Article excerpt

Even before Milwaukee erupted into violence last month over a police shooting--and prompted Gov. Scott Walker to activate 125 members of the National Guard--the highly segregated Rust Belt city had long been considered a powder keg just waiting to explode.

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For instance, during the riots that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the 2014 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Milwaukee councilwoman Milele Coggs ominously warned that her city was "just a death or two away from being Ferguson."

"This is one time I wish I was wrong," Coggs wrote on her Instagram account after fires engulfed more than half a dozen businesses in the area surrounding the shooting scene in the city's Sherman Park neighborhood.

"The ashes from the hurt, pain & frustration that are an outgrowth from years of abject poverty, inequities, segregation & racism can't be swept away," Coggs continued. "They forever stain the foundation of this city & will continue to if ignoring them is the strategy that is pursued."

Coggs is by no means alone. From local rap artists such as Gat Turner--whose song "The Fire This Time" includes a lyric that says "Picture Killwaukee up in flames!"--to a Salon.com writer who said two years ago that Milwaukee "may out-Ferguson Ferguson," there is no shortage of individuals, including some in academe, who felt the unrest in Milwaukee was just a matter of time.

"I'm entirely unsurprised that this has occurred," Sara Goldrick-Rab, a Temple University sociologist who spent several years in Milwaukee researching her book--Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream--told Diverse via Twitter.

Chapter 8 of her book, which is out this month, focuses on Milwaukee and is titled "City of Broken Dreams."

"This is an intensely segregated and impoverished city where many Black folks don't feel safe traversing from one part of the city to another, even to attend college," Goldrick-Rab said. "I've been doing research in Milwaukee since 2008 and the themes of feeling trapped, hopeless, scared--and feeling that 'things will inevitably erupt'--come up over and over when speaking to people between 18 to 30."

Milwaukee is not only the most segregated metro area in the nation; the wealth disparities between its Black and White families are among the widest in the nation as well, according to the Brookings Institution.

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Whereas the average family income for White families in the city stood at just under $100,000 in 2014, for Black families, it was just over $20,000, according to Brookings.

This is not Milwaukee's first experience with riots. The city is one of many cities that erupted into deadly violence in the summer of 1967 due to racial tensions at the time.

Milwaukee also has a long and ugly history with police killings of Black men. One of the most notorious is the 1958 police shooting of Daniel Bell, a 22-year-old Black motorist who fled police after a traffic stop.

A Milwaukee police officer shot Bell in the back of the neck "at close range, then planted a knife in his right hand as he lay in the snow, not knowing he was left-handed," according to one published account.

While the officers involved in his death were initially cleared of wrongdoing, more than two decades later, one of the officers came forth and told the truth about his partner. …

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