“For the first time in my life, I have thought of leaving Wauwatosa.”
I’m told that as a moderate, I’m a unicorn.
I was shocked like most of us, by the George Floyd killing. I became virtually immersed in the unrest through social media live streams. Substantial pressure has been put on our society this past year, straining our existing stress fractures and creating new ones as people act out their frustrations in social media, protests, and riots. We have experienced great loss this year; there is collective grieving. Reality has become more challenging for all of us.
I support equality. Black lives deserve to be better. I support law enforcement and expect accountability.
My life was and is easier because I’m white. I get that. My family’s own history with injustice and poverty may inform my belief that we have a moral responsibility to be informed, open-minded and to support others, within the context of personal responsibility.
For the first time in my life, I have thought of leaving Wauwatosa.
The Peoples Revolution: Know Your Audience and Its Limitations
“We are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man,” Amanda Gorman, January 20, 2021
We have heard you.
Wauwatosa has been in the protest crosshairs of The Peoples Revolution (TPR) since June, 2020. The protests are prolonged and broach what amounts to harassment and abuse, which intimidates many residents and divides us. Much of the Black community experiences trauma daily, through economic struggles and violence, so what Tosa residents have experienced pales in comparison. I’m not asking for anyone to feel sorry for us, but if the goal of the protests was to move opinion, they have failed. If anything, they’ve turned post-George Floyd open hearts and minds against TPR and their demands.
Both city officials and residents are reluctant to express their opinions, for fear of retaliation. Business owners, already weakened by the pandemic, are frustrated. Anyone who disagrees, or even just doesn’t wholly concur with TPR’s agenda, will likely suffer intimidation and aggression in the form of online harassment, doxxing, threats and “pulling up” at their homes or businesses. Our freedom of speech, or even reasonable civil discourse, has ironically been suppressed due to this fear. While most of the protests have not caused property damage or violence, some have, and since protestors are visibly armed, there’s a risk of personal bodily harm.
But violence can also be conveyed without threat of arms. In the midst of one of TPR’s Mayfair shutdowns, Khalil Coleman held a bullhorn just inches from a shop manager’s face. She had already closed the shop, yet he continued to scream through the bullhorn which was pressed up against the glass, with no apparent remaining purpose other than to intimidate her. She stood still and stone-faced, with her hands on her hips in defiant response.
The Mensah protests were conducted in an air of secrecy, cutting live feeds and instructing protestors not to tell anyone where they had been. Rather than chanting “Black Lives Matter” in unison and rhythm, a social media post described how the protestors shouted obscenities and threats at the occupants of the house, with three young Black children inside, once during a child’s birthday party. These weren’t protests; the visits to Mensah’s house were targeted harassment, motivated by anger and hatred. I’m not here to defend or debate the evidence or merits of the DA’s conclusion, but Joseph Mensah has rights that are protected by law not within the control of the City of Wauwatosa.
A Black man called into a radio show this past summer and related a story in which Mensah was the officer that tried to save his family member’s life in a medical emergency. He was genuinely moved by Mensah’s kindness. We don’t know the man or what it is to walk in his shoes.
An irony and the hypocrisy with respect to how police are treated is that protestors wouldn’t want Black people judged by the color of their skin and yet the slogans of F12 (f-ck police) and ACAB (all cops are bastards) are endorsed.
Same thing with live feeds. Live feeds proliferated throughout the summer months. There was honesty in that. More recently, TPR has published selectively edited films, a practice it accuses police and media of.
TPR: Vaun Mayes Edition, threw a “protest party” at a man’s home near 80th and Burleigh. It was sad to see a TPR member get on a microphone attached to a sound system that you could probably hear a block away, and taunt the man for an hour or more. It ended with “Pistol Pete,, as Vaun Mayes called him, flaunting a gun in the window, and Pete getting arrested. What was viewed by TPR as a success, struck me as a display of bullying.
Yet another example of shark-jumping was the well-publicized Candy Cane Lane protest. TPR could have chosen to collaborate with the organizers to promote a message of equality during the holidays, but the approach TPR used was perceived as a misplaced disruption of a festive holiday event. Members of TPR exhibited defensiveness in the wake of the backlash, but if more people were antagonized than not, the intended message wasn’t received, making it a public relations misstep regardless of whether the perception was fair or not. Know your audience.
Protestors disrupted city council meetings while blindsided alders respectfully listened. To call those early summer meetings chaotic is an understatement. At one, the protestors wouldn’t even let the alders get through roll call without hurling obscenities and heckling over the alders’ attempted responses. Yet, the Council in good faith created an additional committee to address the protestors’ police concerns. In addition to the Equity and Inclusion Commission formed in 2019 and headed by Sean Lowe, an Ad Hoc committee to address police reform was added to the Government Affairs Committee and headed by John Larry.
Mayor Dennis McBride tried to build bridges with the activists. He met with many of TPR’s members, and leaders, including Khalil Colemen, and aggravated relations with both WPD and conservatives as a result. Yet Khalil Coleman advised a protest group that they weren’t going to play nice or abide by the requests the mayor made. I can’t speak for McBride, but from my perspective, Coleman shot himself in the foot. He limited opportunities to build on that relationship, by damaging trust and potential for collaboration and partnership.
Members of TPR have harassed city officials. John Larry, who holds an appointed city position leading the Ad Hoc Committee, has called Mayor McBride a Proud Boy. Quoting Wikipedia, the Proud Boys are in part described as “..a far-right, neo-fascist, and male-only political organization that promotes and engages in political violence..”. McBride is a man who spent his career defending equal employment rights and who met with TPR. It’s a preposterous statement, seemingly slanderous.
At the Hart Park “listening session,” TPR members criticized alders for what they perceived as a lack of attention. Concerns had been heard and understood by that point, and the session was largely an expression of the pain and anger people felt. However, TPR might benefit from understanding that the alders are basically volunteers who serve their community, paid just $450 per month. Many of them have day jobs and families. This is not some massive, corrupt political machine. This is not Milwaukee where the alders have full-time jobs with good salaries, benefits and staff. The same goes for the mayor, who is paid just $30,000 per year. I applaud them all for their service this past year.
I don’t doubt that Wauwatosa has a “racist history” likely similar to any older suburb of a major city. It’s sad and shameful, but it’s part of U.S. history. John Larry has stated that there are midnight meetings in which white residents of Wauwatosa discuss keeping Black people out of the city (the term White-watosa in the headline refers to a phrase that Larry used). I have roots here and never have I ever heard of any such meetings. IF such meetings do occur, which I find to be a spurious allegation amongst a bevy of scurrilous allegations on Mr. Larry’s part, they must be a very small and pathetic group of people that I believe do not represent the vast majority of people. In fact, I’d challenge Mr. Larry to tell us who participates in these meetings and where they occur.
In regards to the “racist letter,” delivered shortly after some yard signs expressing concerns about safety appeared in one neighborhood, even the most outspoken conservatives I’ve followed in Tosa do not speak that way. It was a horrifying letter, until you stop and realize, it’s so ridiculously contrived, that it’s likely fake. While the media never connected the dots for folks, it is worth pointing out that those homes were just down the street from Mensah’s house, and those signs were put up not long after the “protest” that culminated in gunshots. The residents’ right to free speech was muted by a “pull up” in which the remaining sign that hadn’t been voluntarily removed, was stolen.
Black people deserve better lives. The protests and TPR’s demands don’t address the issues that underlie why they don’t, and became antagonistic, turning people off from helping the cause and fostering ill will. Where racism exists, it can’t be intimidated or argued away. Where it’s on thinner ice, we can work to overcome it by building bridges to facilitate communication and trust. Instead, I fear the prolonged protests have burned bridges.
“Then victory won’t lie in the blade, But in all the bridges we’ve made,” Amanda Gorman, January 20, 2021
Wauwatosa isn’t to blame for disparities in the Black community. The police aren’t to blame. Mayfair isn’t to blame. The energy to change laws in the interest of police reform, a key tenet of TPR, should be directed to state and federal elected officials, and those elected officials that directly or indirectly partner with TPR, such as Tammy Baldwin, David Bowen and Jonathan Brostoff, should lead that charge. Why harass Wauwatosa for something it can’t change?
TPR would benefit from focusing on the PR (public relations) in TPR. Know your audience and how to persuade them. Recognize the city has limitations, legally and otherwise. Instead of using white “allies” as an asset to gain an understanding of your audience, Black members rebuke them, telling them to be quiet and learn.
Wauwatosa Leadership and Police: Work Together for Peace
“We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside,” Amanda Gorman, January 20, 2021
The mayor and WPD have tried to balance TPR’s right to free speech with residents’ rights to peace and safety.
TPR and its allies were offended by the law enforcement presence on Oct. 7. It’s true that most of the previous protests didn’t warrant that level of response. However, in light of the DA’s decision and how similar events have played out in our country, force was appropriate to prevent violence such as what we saw in Kenosha or at our nation’s Capitol. No one can predict or control precisely how and when group think will play out. It seems that the actions of a few can be the start of a slippery slope that turns a peaceful protest into a destructive, violent riot. It needs to stop and be stopped before we become so desensitized to violence, so barbaric, that we lose our civility and our humanity.
On Oct. 7, a protestor on live feed stated, as he marched down North Avenue, that the protest was peaceful, even as glass could be heard shattering in the background. He briefly commented, “People are angry.” Since the Capitol riot, I’ve observed conservatives who wouldn’t condone violence or participate in it themselves, and who were fiercely critical of the summer’s protest-riots, cheer on the Capitol riot as though their particular anger is more justified than that of another group. We need to move beyond the anger in order to make change.
Police deserve support, having difficult jobs and having to make split-second decisions in rapidly evolving, unpredictable and dangerous situations. They are trained to stop threats to the public. This year’s massive civil unrest and societal challenges put law enforcement in incredibly challenging situations, on the front lines of society’s stress fractures in live-action. There’s no rehearsal, no predicting human behavior in these situations.
We need to hear from WPD. I think the police made some mistakes this year as well. I think that the police chief and union should be open to dialog and accessible. There’s an air of secrecy and protectionism that emanates from police leadership which I think needs to be checked. Some of the reactions and communication have left me feeling uneasy. And it’s apparent there is a fundamental distrust that inhibits the communication between citizens of color [BIPOC] and police. Both parties need to address that.
While I believe there are things that could be done to improve police protocols, they aren’t the source of the underlying problem in the Black community, which is largely economic disparity. Milwaukee has lost an abundance of manufacturing jobs since the 1970s. It has suffered more economically than many cities. James Causey of MJS has explored the issue, and MJS did an article about this on Sunday, November 1st. Globalization has hurt many of us.
Wauwatosa: The Broader Future
Violent or chronic protests impact cities’ reputations. Perception quickly becomes reality. Portland has become a poor business risk; its reputation having been damaged by inaction and an unwillingness to control violence. OregonLive recently reported that 62% of Portland’s downtown businesses stated that the central city was no longer safe, and one third of its businesses intend to relocate.
Any damage caused to Wauwatosa’s reputation would damage Milwaukee and its surroundings. Wauwatosa might be called a suburb, but we’re really a contiguous partner. The real suburbs are in outlying counties, the ones you need to get on the freeway to access. We have chosen to live here, in a highly diverse, densely populated county. Having a symbiotic relationship, we’re a large part of the urban health and financial stability of Milwaukee County. While we’re currently being treated as a causation, we’re inherently and contemporaneously part of the solution.
Our society has increasingly become two extremes that don’t accept the other while engaging in a dangerous zero-sum game, thinking we hold the morally superior authority to impose our will on others. Truth is optional, empathy scarce, anger and pain abundant. We seek validation through “news” that we agree with, rather than challenge our beliefs. When combined with our short attention span and sense of entitlement, we demand immediate results to conform with our own version of reality. Protestors demand immediate change with no negotiation. Political zealots demonize those with whom they disagree. This dangerous concoction has played out over the past year, most recently in our Capitol in previously unthinkable ways on January 6, 2021.
Having been a longtime resident of Milwaukee County, who cares about the entire urban area, I hope we can move beyond the pain and anger and begin working with elected officials at the appropriate level, to move forward. We are human before we are a race or political party. Let’s start acting like humans, listen with empathy and demonstrate mutual respect. Otherwise, I’m not sure we’ve advanced beyond the Middle Ages. We just have more dangerous tools with which to assail each other.