Year after year, Wisconsin is cited as among the worst places in the US for Black people to live. On almost every quality-of-life issue—housing, employment, education, health, criminal justice, and other social and economic indicators—Black people in the state fare much worse than their white counterparts. These disparities are empirically verified. Those on the right may point to personal and moral failings of Black people while those on the left bemoan systemic inequities. But what about the climate and culture issues that make these disparities appear normal? One indicator of the climate is the ongoing disregard the larger culture seems to have for its Black citizens. We saw it happen in the 2022 election against then Lieutenant Governor, US Senate candidate, Mandela Barnes and now it’s gearing up against Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Judge Everett Mitchell.
A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and later the Wisconsin State Journal discusses alleged abuse by Judge Mitchell that was a part of a divorce claim by his ex-wife. These issues surface for one reason and one reason alone—Judge Mitchell is making positive in-roads in areas where opponents felt he had no chance.
Do you remember when candidate Mandela Barnes was polling six to nine points ahead of incumbent Ron Johnson? And why wouldn’t he? Johnson’s self-inflicted wounds were denying the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, aligning with 2020 election deniers, attempts to install fake electors, and downplaying the seriousness of the January 6 insurrection. It seemed that Barnes would cruise to victory. But then the anti-Black culture kicked in. Suddenly Barnes was seen as a tax evader (which apparently didn’t hurt the 2016 Presidential candidate), soft on crime, and anti-law enforcement. In the end, people split their tickets. They voted for a Democratic Governor and re-elected a Republican Senator.
Now, Mitchell, who was initially seen as too linked to Madison and Dane County, has started to gain some traction in Milwaukee. Recently, Milwaukee State Representative LaKeshia Myers wrote in the Milwaukee Courier (January 2, 2023) that Judge Mitchell was exactly what the State Supreme Court needs. In 175 years, there has never been an elected justice of color on the State Supreme Court (we acknowledge Justice Louis Butler’s appointment to the court in 2004 by then Governor Jim Doyle along with the demonization he received during the election cycle despite his stellar qualifications). Despite comprising 20 percent of the state’s population, people of color have never been elected to the Supreme Court bench.
While the mainstream newspaper is quick to suggest Mitchell is tainted because he endured a difficult divorce fraught with accusations, there is little in the article about his ongoing service to the community. For more than a decade the Tuesday before Thanksgiving found Judge Mitchell at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Wright Middle School in South Madison distributing turkeys and fixings to feed hungry families. Judge Mitchell has built his reputation on service—as a pastor, a prosecutor, a community servant, and a judge.
The low blow thrown by the mainstream media is not about partisan politics. It is about an ongoing belief that Black people are incapable of good governing and holding positions of power. This attack on his character is not only calculated and mean-spirited, but also evil. It is designed not just to win an election but to destroy a man. Further, it is designed to send a message to the larger Black community: you can only rise so high in this state. Stay in your place.
Those who know Judge Everett Mitchell and who will get the opportunity to meet and know him throughout this campaign will find a man who will help restore integrity and fairness to the court. We will not be fooled by the racialized tactics of the past. We will fully embrace Wisconsin’s motto: Forward!
Black Leadership Council Communications Team
NAACP Dane County
Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County
African American Council of Churches
Mount Zion Baptist Church, Madison
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Madison365, 365 Media Foundation, its staff or board of directors.