There is an old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. New stereotypes are just as destructive as old stereotypes. And sometimes the old stereotypes are trotted out one more time for a nostalgic run to see if they have traction.
      "People are moving to Madison from Chicago and causing all of these problems. They socialize differently and are loud. They don't want to work. They are dealing drugs. They have just come here to get on welfare."
      These are comments that were used to describe the relatively large growth in the African American community during the mid-1980s when I worked at the Urban League. "People from Chicago" was a euphemism for Black people.  If there was a new Black face in town, the person was from Chicago and they were up to no good. It was a particularly ugly stereotype that was created and pasted on African Americans no matter where they came from and what their particular socio-economic situation was. I remember middle-class African Americans being stopped and questioned for jogging on the wrong side of town.
      I remember a quite diverse group of people of African heritage -- whether they had emigrated here from the continent of Africa or moved here as a promotion with Oscar Mayer/Kraft or coming up from the South or moving here from Dubuque, Iowa -- moving here for a better life, just like all of the Euro-Americans had done at the same time. I don't recall the Euro-Americans being labeled as being from "that place" or "this place"
I don't recall the level of fear growing because the number of Euro-Americans had grown so rapidly during the 1990s. I don't think anyone knew where they came from and didn't care. But they were worried about the number of African Americans. And one alderperson at the time said there were "good  n-words" and "bad n-words." It seemed that alderperson was an expert on "n-words." And another alderperson from the south side emphasized that there was too high of a concentration of Section 8 housing on the south side and that it should be spread around to the rest of the city.
      Now we can fast forward to 2007.  There has been quite a stir recently over the alleged rise in crime recently, particularly in portions of the west side. It seems that crime is up on the west side, 15 percent since 2001, according to an article in the Wisconsin State Journal.
      And in the same article, it repeated comments West District Capt. Jay Langfeld made about the newcomers being from Chicago. "He said it's Chicagoans, and not so much former residents of Allied Drive, who have moved to the Balsam-Russett area," the  article said. "There has been an effort to empty out some of the projects, and people have been moving here for a better life for their families," Langfeld said. He said people moving in to the area from larger urban areas have a higher level of tolerance for noise. "They are used to it being noisy at night," he said. He further went on to talk about the Middleton Hills neighborhood with "expensive houses lived in by traditional Madisonians."
      WOW!!! It is the 1980s all over again. I can't believe that a captain of the Madison Police Department is setting up these stereotypes and that they may be used to fuel a dramatic rise of 30 police officers in the city's next budget.  This is out-and-out fear-mongering with thinly-veiled stereotypes of African Americans. I can't believe it.
      And I think Langfeld is just dead-wrong in his assumptions and stereotypes. Last year, I wrote a three-part article on Allied Drive, where many of the apartment buildings had a 50 percent vacancy rate. Where did all of the people go, I wondered. Well, many moved out to the area which is now experiencing a 30 percent jump in crime in the all-too-familiar Madison game of relocating the low-income housing area. We have chased poverty from Sommerset to Simpson Street to Vera Court to Darbo-Worthington to any number of low-income areas where the low-income folks were displaced to somewhere else. Anyone involved in human services or subsidized housing or was just paying attention knew that this Schroeder Road area may become the new "Allied Drive."
       Talk about "those people from Chicago" creates harmful stereotypes. I'll bet you that there are families in that area -- African American families -- who stay inside because they don't like the noise. I'm sure that there is a diversity of people there, a diversity of African American      people, who have been painted with the stereotype of  "those people from Chicago" and will be treated negatively as "'those people from Chicago" no matter what their situation. And who are the "traditional Madisonians" from Middleton Hills. Are those Euro-Americans? I'll bet a lot of those people have recently moved to the Madison area as well. In case Langfeld didn't recognize it, Dane County -- particularly the Madison metropolitan area -- is one of the fastest growing areas in Wisconsin. People from all socio-economic backgrounds are moving here. It isn't a case of  "those people from Chicago" and "'traditional Madisonians."
      And the increase in crime isn't caused by "those people from Chicago." It is caused by people from all walks of life living on the west side. I remember a string of burglaries being committed by affluent juveniles on the west side several years back. And I know there are people who use cocaine and other drugs who live on the west side, but would be considered "traditional Madisonians" in Langfeld's world  view.
      And crime is often times influenced by our economic conditions. Did anyone notice that there was a decrease in jobs last month? Has anyone seen how thin the classified ad sections are these days? Economics has a lot to do with crime. As Ray-O-Vac and other companies close good-paying factory jobs -- and as jobs are shipped overseas -- what happens to the people and families who would take those jobs? What impact does the increasing bifurcation between high income and low income households have on the situation? While most of our community has the good life, others are living in recession. As the number of people accessing food pantries and experiencing homelessness continues to grow, isn't that a sign of something amiss? Maybe people congregate outside because the price of energy has gone up rapidly and they can't afford air conditioning or can't go to Vilas Zoo?
      And what's going to happen when the police start writing more  tickets to low-income people living in the "suppression zone." It's just going to put them deeper in debt because they won't have the money to pay the fines and eventually perhaps their car registration or driver's license will be revoked and they will lose their jobs because they can't legally drive.
      This whole "knee-jerk" reaction to crime will more than likely create more problems than it solves. It is very important that people stick to the facts about crime and not the fear about crime in order to make the right decisions and not decisions that will exacerbate the situation. I don't    think the right questions are being asked and people are relying on pseudo-stereotypes to guide their decision-making. Just increasing the number of people locked up isn't the right decision. It is only a prescription for disaster down the road, a disaster that will once again have the African American community paying the greatest price to give Euro-Americans the feeling that all is right with the world. I hope Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and the city council give this issue and the repercussions of their actions serious deliberation before the law of unintended consequences sets in with the aftermath of bad public policy.

September 19, 2007
Stories & Columns


*
The Literary Divide: Pres. Bush's speech on the Iraq surge: No change in policy,
by Dr. Paul Barrows

*
Joyce Boggess: A commitment to children (2),
by Jonathan Gramling

*
From the fields to business,
by Jonathan Gramling

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Simple Things: Grateful for Hispanic Heritage Month,
by Lang Kenneth Haynes

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Willie & Vivian Larkin: Professional transition,
by Jonathan Gramling

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Asian Wisconzine/J.Chloe Braun: Fictionalizing reality,
by Heidi M. Pascual
www.asianwisconzine.com

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Politicas de hoy: Patrullaje en colaboracion con nuestra comunidad,
por Alfonso Zepeda Capistran

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Voices: Progressive radio,
by Dr. Jean Daniels

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WE the people,
by Wesley Sparkman

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Centerspread: Uno Mexico, dos fiestas,
by Jonathan Gramling

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China Dispatch: She loves me not; she loves me...
by Andrew Gramling

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El Pajaro Loco: Memories of Mexico,
by Jonathan Gramling

* L
ussier Community Education Center Groundbreaking,
by Jonathan Gramling

*
West High Principal Ed Holmes: Teaching for tomorrow (2),
by Jonathan Gramling


HOMEPAGE

ARCHIVES
VOL. II No. 19                     Sept. 19, 2007
  Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                                     
New problem, old problem
Cover Story:
Natalia Armacanqui Hildner
by Laura Salinger