Monday, May 11, 2009

Apartheid In Milwaukee Suburbs: Again

The Journal Sentinel has a story that is both shocking and not: Of the 600 firefighters in Milwaukee County suburbs, one is African-American, and he was hired only nine months ago.

Suburban chiefs, while denying racist hiring - - and let's hope that the US Justice Department Civil Rights Division goes a little deeper into the issue than that - - say they cannot remember ever having an African-American in the fire service.

The story says that there are 12,000 African-Americans living in the eighteen suburban Milwaukee County communities - - you know the names: Franklin and River Hills, Greenfield and Oak Creek, and so on - - and their African-American residents make up 3.3% of those suburban communities' population.

You get into the surrounding counties, and the African-American population shrinks below that paltry 3.3% percentage.

Ozaukee County: 1.4%.

Waukesha County: 1.3%.

Washington County: 1.1%.

Go deeper into the US Census Bureau website date, and the effects are apparent of certain public, non-market factors, like legally preventing Milwaukee in 1955 from expanding by annexation, and disconnecting job centers, like the City of New Berlin's industrial park in Waukesha County, from direct bus service.

City of Waukesha: 1.3%

City of New Berlin: 0.4%.

Keeping going west but still in neighboring Waukesha County (using a different census website):

City of Oconomowoc: 0.3%. (Remember a few years ago when an off-duty volunteer fire chief and another off-duty firefighter in that general area chased an African-American fisherman off a public bridge? With a pistol and a German Shepherd. True story.)

City of Delafield: 0.1% - - six African-American residents of 6,472.

And some of you are still wondering why others of us been appalled at the ongoing, 34-year-delay by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) in writing a regional housing plan that would address and give credibility to affordability and expose discriminatory housing practices.

(See the counter at the upper-left of the blog home page for the actual data - - and yes, SEWRPC has created, after years of delay, broken promises and pressure, a committee to begin a roughly two-year study. The committee not long ago had its first meeting. More are scheduled.)

SEWRPC would be perfectly within its statutory mandate to assertively investigate the region's racial and economic segregation, but it chooses not to.

In 2007, SEWRPC grudgingly created an Environmental Justice Task Force, and only last week hired an outreach manager: both are supposed to facilitate communication with low-income and minority communities.

Little wonder that civil rights complaints have been filed over transportation and SEWRPC decision-making, policy planning, hiring, spending or appointing members to advisory committees that favor the suburbs with public dollars and other resources.

Or that some, including myself, have urged Milwaukee to withdraw from SEWRPC so that public agendas that include minority communities can get real study and action in a new, urban-focused body.

And why selling diverted Great Lakes water to growing Waukesha County communities like Waukesha and New Berlin will intensify the racial and income separation between the City of Milwaukee - - with its majority population of minority residents - - and the surrounding, sprawl-happy communities and counties?

Had SEWRPC included these socio-economic issues and others in its draft regional water supply study, its pro-diversion analysis and recommendations might have been different, or at least more fully-informed and useful.

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