Yesterday, Milwaukee’s new mayor Cavalier Johnson announced a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence and reckless driving in his city. Over 200 people were murdered in Milwaukee last year and 65 were killed as a result of traffic crashes.
One of Johnson’s initiatives is to maintain Milwaukee’s current police staffing strength. That’s important because 180 officers have been cut in the last two years. This is the reverse of the “defund the police” mantra that comes from the hard-left.
Johnson’s focus on the most pressing and practical issues in his city, and in much of urban America, right now is not unique. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams has also called for a crackdown on shootings and he opened the public schools there on time in the face of pressure to keep them closed because of the omicron virus. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot fought her teachers union to do the same. In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed is taking heavy criticism from progressives for her new aggressive stance against crime and disorder in her city.
What do all these mayors have in common? They’re all people of color and all of their predecessors were white liberals. And, with the exception of San Francisco, all these cities have large African American populations.
It has been clear for some time now that there is a split in the Democratic Party between affluent white liberals and blue-collar voters and people of color. That’s right. Non-college educated white voters who still identify as Democrats and Black and Hispanic voters are far more moderate than white liberals. Moreover, they make up a strong majority of Democrats. The problem is that it’s the affluent white liberals who give money to candidates, hold fundraisers for them and who are generally more outspoken. It’s the children of those white liberals who work in campaigns and who become young aides in congressional and other offices.
But it was Black voters who made Joe Biden their party’s nominee, choosing him over much more liberal alternatives — some of whom were Black themselves. It was Black voters who chose Adams in New York. In fact, the only borough Adams lost was affluent Manhattan. And it was Black voters in Minneapolis who killed a referendum that would have abolished that city’s police department in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis cop. That referendum won in affluent white liberal wards.
Which brings us back home to Madison, with a Black population of only seven percent. We are not exempt from the nationwide increase in gun violence. Shots fired incidents rose dramatically in 2020 and continued into 2021. This year has started off badly.
And yet there is no sense of urgency about it among our elected leaders. Nobody has stepped up to say that this is THE priority to be addressed in our city. In fact, I’m constantly struck at how quiet Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is about most everything. I appreciate picking your political fights — God knows that’s a lesson I could have benefited from when I had the job — but there are times when you’ve just got to speak up. The violence in and around Madison schools is a situation that, it seems to me, the mayor should be all over. I don’t think it’s idle speculation on my part that Johnson, Adams, Lightfoot and Breed would be.
If you read this blog on a regular basis, you’re familiar with one of our basic themes: the problem of affluent white liberals. I feel comfortable in my heavy criticism of these folks since I’m pretty much one of them. I may not be affluent exactly, but I’m plenty comfortable. I’m just about the whitest white guy you’re ever going to meet. And I’d be considered a liberal in just about any neighborhood in America, save my own.
But there is this detachment from reality that I see among my own people. They exist in a world of books and high theory. For example, when I criticize Critical Race Theory a common response from my liberal friends is to give me a reading list. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with reading, but the vast majority of Americans, including people of color, are not going to read books on race.
My point is that when you live in virtually crime-free neighborhoods like the Upper West Side of Manhattan (relative to the rest of the New York, at least) and the West Side of Madison, it’s easy to be theoretical about crime and to go on and on about “root causes”, whereas people who worry about being hit by a stray bullet tend to be, well, more practical.
In fact, two of the most down-to-earth alders on the Madison City Council are Sheri Carter and Barbara Harrington-McKinney, two Black women. It’s not uncommon to find them at odds with their more liberal white colleagues, who have read all the right books. And one of the most respected community leaders we have is Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson, who has expressed a sense of urgency about school violence and who supports a comprehensive approach, including more counseling but also returning cops to high schools.
I fear for our democracy. I worry the Democrats will get pasted in the next election. I fret that the party seems to keep missing the point and not paying enough attention to the issues that are most directly impacting the lives of average Americans right now. Sorry, but that’s not voting rights; it’s crime. It’s not anything in Build Back Better; it’s inflation.
Both the Democratic Party and the city of Madison could get back on the right track by becoming more practical, by listening more closely to the voices of average Americans. That practicality is best articulated by rank-and-file Black voters. The problem for our city is that we don’t have enough of them.
Welcome to the 329th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!