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.