Reality Comes to the West Side

Sometimes theory runs head on into the real world. That happened recently in the shadow of Camp Randall Stadium.

Let’s say you’re an affluent, white liberal living in University Heights. (This, of course, is redundant. If you live in the Heights you are, pretty much by definition, affluent, white and liberal.) As such, you are up to speed on the latest fashions in liberal thought. You have a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard. You have read White Fragility and committed key passages to memory. You have developed a finely tuned sense of guilt for your “white privilege.” You have committed to being an “anti-racist.” You have made it a point to actually get to know some Black people, and some of these acquaintances only have master’s degrees. So, while feeling the required sense of guilt you’ve read about, you are secretly quite content with yourself for being so evolved in your sensitivity to social injustice.

And now this happens.

Just blocks from your own home, a young Black man is gunned down in a drive by shooting. Earlier this month, Javon Freeny, only 17-years old, was shot and killed while at a late night party on Lathrop Street. Moreover, that party was not your standard issue student blow out. It was attended by a lot of underage (and overage) people who did not live the neighborhood. In fact, the Madison police cannot track down anyone who was at the house party who actually lived there.

The UW Madison Chancellor’s residence is in the heart of University Heights.

And it only gets more slippery. Javon would have attended MMSD’s Capital High School in a few weeks. Capital High has been the subject of a good deal of angst in the neighborhoods just west of the Heights. The alternative high school, which has existing campuses in other neighborhoods, is planned to consolidate at the Hoyt School site on Regent Street, just down the street from West High. Capital High is predominantly made up of poor Black kids. Neighbors are so uptight about this that they’ve appealed an approval of the conversion by the Plan Commission.

Neighbors are centering their concerns on traffic, but 90% of the students are expected to arrive there by bus and the school will have only 200 students, compared to 2,200 at West. For two decades my wife and I lived only a couple of blocks from that much larger campus and we never experienced any serious problems.

While I’m slow to attribute everything to race, I think there’s a credible case to be made that what the neighbors really fear is poor Black kids. And if Javon was the kind of kid who attracted a drive by shooter (and we do not know if he was the target) that would only increase the unease about a Capital High campus in the area.

The very fact that there was concern openly expressed is telling. It suggests that theoretical liberalism goes only so far when confronted with on-the-ground realities.

Javon’s murder brings straight into the heart of affluent liberalism the widespread shooting sprees that have taken place mostly in poorer neighborhoods around the city. It’s one thing to lament the systemic racism that results in desperation that begets this sort of violence… in other places. It’s quite another to have to worry about shots fired a block or two away.

As a matter of fact, polls consistently find that it is white liberals living in safe neighborhoods who are most concerned about systemic racism in police departments. Black Americans who live in troubled neighborhoods want to see the cops around.

There are practical ways to make the community safer, but they are not something you will read about in White Fragility.

We could, for example, refund the police. Javon’s murder might have been prevented if cops could have remained on the scene. They were called to the party by neighbors complaining of loud noise and other unruly behaviors. But they were called away by more serious reports of a street fight in another part of the city. With more cops available more of these kinds of quality of life issues could get more attention from law enforcement. But, of course, this is the very reverse of “defunding the police.”

We could also start strictly enforcing parole holds and bail jumping. It’s a safe bet that many, if not most, of the shooting is being done by men with criminal records who might well be in violation of their paroles or subject to arrest for other issues. It seems to me that it would make sense, as the bullets fly and threaten innocent lives, to first get the bad guys off the streets and worry about the root causes of crime later. But, of course, this runs counter to the liberal theoriticians who want to stop enforcing all parole conditions and who want to abolish cash bail altogether.

The murder of Javon Freeny brings the problem home. People who live in absolutely safe neighborhoods have the luxury of living in a theoretical world where all the problems are the result of systemic racism. They know that because everybody in their book club agrees.

People who live in troubled neighborhoods are confronted with the messiness of it all. Of course systemic racism exists, but it does not explain 100% of every problem. There has to be room for the consideration of personal and family responsibility. Of course we need to address the root causes of crime, but it’s dangerous to do that at the exclusion of a sense of urgency about the bullets flying right now.

This tragedy might just bring a greater sense of reality to the liberals of University Heights. And if the hard-left more broadly shook off its infatuation with Critical Race Theory and became more realistic and balanced in its views we could start to make some real progress again on both race and crime.

Welcome to the 192nd consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “Reality Comes to the West Side

  1. Dave – I don’t know who your sources are, but I lived on Regent Street, left of center woman that I am. I experienced my next door neighbor’s home invasion, panhandling at my door, strangers running through the backyard in the middle of the night. I believe Black Lives Matter and that we have had 400 years of color bias in this country. I am totally on board with top notch policing. I am totally opposed to any kind of brutality or discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion. I don’t think that makes me some kind of effete snob – just a caring human being. My former neighbors in the heights were far less likely to complain about the new high school than the folks in Sunset Village and surrounds. We are living in unusual times – you are beating up on folks like me on the same day my beloved New York Times gives Scott Walker center stage to brag about how wonderful he made Wisconsin. Obviously, the likes of me have become irrelevant.


  2. Yeah, there are lots of white rich liberals that are pretty irritating with the facade. Not actually able to have a normal conversation with a custodian, for example. They believe in hierarchy.

    I’ll remind that there’s really nothing extreme about the concept of white privilege or critical race theory. It’s just reality, and we can make reality better by using rational thinking and democracy. We can become better. Acknowledging reality is step 1. I guess I just get irritated by those concepts being used as boogymen.

    What I really liked is the penultimate paragraph. We need to be able to keep more than one concept in our heads at once. Nothing is all one thing or another, no answer is simple.

    I will argue against the “refund the police idea”. Police are really expensive and they don’t by-and-large prevent crime. We could perhaps get more value from having more less expensive people working on crime issues and getting sworn officers off crime prevention tasks and focusing on crime solving tasks. I’d like to see the sworn force smaller and more focused and bringing suspects in to their day in court and making sure that the evidence is top notch.

    It’s not reasonable that a pair of sworn officers should spend lots of time at every house party call in the name of crime prevention. They are highly trained to use their powers of arrest and lethal force and now we’re trying to expect them to be social workers, mediators, mental health experts, etc. – that’s not reasonable. Let them focus on dangerous stuff. Maybe a different type of employee could be used for that call? Then if it turns out dangerous step back and call in the big dogs.

    Our society is suffering. We are sick in ways far beyond Covid. We need to forget all this hierarchy and realize our Oneness. When we can really (I mean really) accept that none of us are better than anyone else, and none of us are worth more than anyone else, when nobody uses hierarchy to extract and separate from others, when we know we need to work together and not against each other, only then will our suffering reduce.


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