Reflections/ Jonathan Gramling

Anti-loitering again
     When I saw LaMarr Billups this morning, he was not a happy camper as they say. He was fuming. He would look at the newspaper, put it down, rant and rave about what he read and then pick it up to read some more. He did this several times. Billups doesn't get riled up like this very often. But the reported looming introduction by south side Alderman Timothy Bruer of an anti-loitering ordinance to the Madison Common Council had Billups up in arms.
      We know who gets stopped when an anti-loitering ordinance is put in place. The vast majority of tickets issued under Madison.s previous anti-loitering ordinance were African American. Race still matters in this town. Billups, an outstanding Madison citizen in anyone's book who is a member of Madison's Police & Fire Commission and the Overture Center board, has been accosted by the Madison police before for walking near his home. He was just walking, nothing more. Billups is African American for those of you who don't know him.
      Crimes are up in Madison for the first six months of this year when compared to similar data for 2005. There have been those bank robberies and the muggings and robberies in the downtown area. When a jump in crime statistics happens, you can rest assure that politicians like Bruer will trot out a proposal like an anti-loitering ordinance to visibly show people that crime is being combated to the detriment of poor people and people of color.
      I'm not too sure how effective this ordinance will be. For instance, I've never heard about a group of bank robbers hanging out in front of the bank before they pull a heist. Aren't those usually an in and out in five minutes kind of an affair? Will they be around long enough for a police officer to approach them, tell them to disperse, and hand them a ticket, thereby thwarting a robbery of thousands of dollars? There's something that's not right here.
      Or how about the recent robberies in the Isthmus area? Do muggers usually hang out in groups of more than three people in a very visible way waiting for an unsuspecting drunk to come by and then mug them? I always thought that they lurked in alleyways and in dark places waiting for their prey. I always thought they hang out where no one can see them and identify them. Are youth walking down the street, in fact, loitering?
      If over three businessmen wearing three piece suits are hanging out on a State Street corner, will they be stopped and ticketed? Will this be applied to Langdon Street and Fraternity Row where groups of people drinking are hanging out in front of their frat houses?
      And how about the kids hanging out on a suburban lawn high off of something they went down to Allied Drive to purchase? Will they be given loitering tickets? Will they be searched? In what areas of the city will this be applied?
And what does this mean for folks living in Allied Drive and other poorer sections of town. Does this mean that they can't come out of their hot apartments on a steamy summer day because they don't have air conditioning or can't afford the cooling bill because of high energy prices? Certainly, Alderman Bruer knows about that phenomenon since he is the head of Energy Services.
      Are poor folks supposed to stay in their houses if more than two people are in close proximity to each other? Does this give the police the "right" to accost them no matter what they are doing -- or haven't done?
      Does this mean that poor folks don't have the right to congregate anymore? Does this mean that the First Amendment has been repealed, which guarantees people the right to peaceful assembly?
      Or does this possibly mean that some sections of town will now be under a quasi police state?
And does this mean that Alderman Bruer who has a significant number of African Americans and other people of color living within his district only has to represent part of his district and doesn't worry about what kind of impact it will have on the other part?
      A million questions should be asked about this anti-loitering proposal before it is placed back on the shelf of failed policies. While an anti-loitering ordinance may play well with some folks in this town, it will hurt the quality of life of others. And weren't we recently concerned about the low quality of life that African Americans reported in a recent survey?
      I hope the NAACP, the Urban League, LUChA, and other civil rights organizations in this city jump all over this one. It is a loser from the get go.
***
      One can't help but feel good about the success that the PEOPLE Program had this year and its impact on the 2006 UW-Madison freshman class. There are 72 PEOPLE Program participants entering the UW this fall. Count them. 72. The number that keeps matriculating to the UW and other institutions of higher learning just keeps growing and growing and growing.
      Kudos to all of the staff of the PEOPLE Program for the hard work they have put into the program over the years, especially Walter Lane who has overseen the day-to-day operation of the program since its inception. And kudos also to Dr. Paul Barrows for making this program happen so many years ago.
      Our future is just a little brighter because of what PEOPLE is achieving today!
***
      I sometimes just have to wonder where all of the civil rights agitation has gone in this town. Where are the great speakers who used to come in and pump us up with their vision? These days, it seems we have dinners and banquets and awards and picnics. But what are we actually accomplishing here? Certainly the racial inequities and disparities are still with us, probably more severely than ever. Who is here to remind us of oour commitment to the poor and those who are less fortunate than we are? Where have all of the voices gone?
VOL I NO. 11                                   AUGUST 9, 2006
August 9, 2006
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