When History Repeats Itself

Full disclosure: I haven't written much these past few weeks. My brain has been too distracted this summer. I can't seem to look away from the hate and vitriol spewing from the Trump campaign and the demonizing of Hillary Clinton by liberals who clearly have nothing to lose—nothing at stake—if Trump wins. This presidential election has consumed my thoughts since the political conventions a few weeks ago.

And now the city that I love is on fire.

I can't take a side. You know I come from a law enforcement family. But I'm also not about to fly a Thin Blue Line flag in my front yard. We've seen too many instances of police abuses of power that have resulted in the unnecessary death of young, black men in recent months. But I also can't condone violence of any kind, even though Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1966, "I think that we've got to see that a riot is the voice of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years."

I drive through Milwaukee's most blighted neighborhoods nearly every day. One cannot be blind to the systemic racism that continues to make Milwaukee the most segregated city in the country, and in a recent report, Wisconsin was named the country's worst state for African Americans. I live two miles from the epicenter of this recent violence, yet I might as well be on a different planet for the real distance between the neighborhood I live in and where the fires are burning.

When C and I bought our house a few years ago, we inherited a stack of original documents that had been passed from one owner to the next since the home's construction in 1941--original house blueprints, receipts for work done, mortgage payments, etc. Among the papers is the house's original title and a contractual agreement. The house is now within the city of Milwaukee, but at the time of its construction, it was a subdivision with stipulations as varied as if you could have a fence in your yard, or what kind of materials could be used in the construction of the home's roof. One of these stipulations was that all homes in the subdivision had to be worth at least $5,500. At the time, this kind of premise was meant to keep "the wrong kind" of homeowners from living in the neighborhood, i.e. people of color. But this was a far more subtle form of racism than the stipulation that appeared a few lines later:

You read that right: only white people were allowed to live in my neighborhood in 1941. This wasn't the Jim Crow South with their segregated schools and drinking fountains. This happened in the supposedly "free" North. What's happening in Milwaukee and in other cities across the country didn't happen overnight. It's the result of generations of redlining, white flight, disinvestment, and downtown development projects (i.e. a $250 billion dollar basketball arena) that ignore the needs of the rest of the city.

Our country needs to heal after this long, hot summer, but maybe more than that, we need a history lesson to understand how we got to this point.