I do not personally know Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. In fact, I think the only time we’ve ever even been in a room together was when we were seated in the same row at the Democratic debate in Milwaukee this past February. I gave a speech on student loan debt that night, so unless he went to the bathroom during it, he has definitely heard me speak. What I am about to say isn’t coming from some personal vendetta I have against him. It is coming from the eyes of a citizen of a neglected part of the city he is supposedly the leader of.
Mayor Tom Barrett’s press conference the other day where he announced enforcement of the 10 p.m. curfew for minors made my blood boil quite a bit admittedly. Not only because it was enforcement of a law already on the books, a law that he somehow did not enforce when kids were causing a disturbance at Sherman Park a month and a half ago. But also because he had two whole days to come up with a plan of action. Besides talking with the black churches, which he’s done for the millionth time, his actions just seem like a save face/bare-minimum tactic. Milwaukee needs strong, measured, empathetic leadership at a time this dire. But what Barrett is displaying is a level of political cowardice unlike any I have seen.
Like I said a few months ago after Barrett’s campaign criticized his primary opponent for reaching out to gang members on the north side to try to stop the violence that was and definitely still is ripping this city apart: Leading from behind will only make things in this city worse. Make no mistake, there is a direct link to Barrett’s lack of leadership and the ever-growing unrest in this city.
I’m beginning to think that Mayor Barrett only speaks to blacks he is comfortable with, which is a list of people that does not include me and the vast majority of people who live in Milwaukee’s inner city. I guess it’s cool though if he is an introvert with anxiety issues. If this were the case, I wouldn’t wish for him to be uncomfortable. Unfortunately for Mr. Barrett though, he is the mayor of a major American city, one that is making international headlines due to disgruntled citizens lashing out because they neither feel they have a voice nor feel properly represented in their own city.
His response to these concerns is to stifle these voices even more through imposing a curfew on minors, a curfew that is, in fact, already in the books and is a response that is incredibly mystifying to me. What Barrett did was akin to putting a wet band-aid over a wound gushing with bloodshed, rage and hopelessness. It’s literally the opposite of what should be done at this point. We need to hear more voices, more opinions and more insight to prevent this from happening again. The last thing we need is to draw a line in the sand that further antagonizes residents and puts the onus on law enforcement to be more aggressive in its relations with citizens.
Even when innocent children were being shot and killed on the north side over the past couple of years, Barrett raised his voice a little bit and said that he was mad and said he was going to do something about the surge in crime taking innocent lives. The problem with this is best illustrated with the iconic words of Mr. Sean Carter, “We don’t believe you, you need more people!” Barrett consistently promises to address violence in this city. But truth be told, his empty promises are the only consistent thing about the work he does as mayor. Effectively addressing violence in this city does not entail treating citizens in the inner city like we have cooties and you never got your cooties shot. Forget not wanting to get his hands dirty. Mayor Barrett won’t even bother to roll up his sleeves for fear of getting those dirty. Mayor Barrett in his response to the ever-growing unrest of the last few days just seemed to put the blindfold on, stick the earplugs in, and pray that everything blew over before the end of the week. He’s more concerned with maintaining the illusion of order than he is with communicating with his constituents to achieve the elusive goal of justice for all in this city.
Now some of you probably think that I’m being too hard on Mr. Barrett and am doubly being disingenuous by not offering solutions myself to the disaster that is Mayor Barrett’s tenure of leadership in Milwaukee. But the solution is so simple and plain as day that it damn near makes no sense for me to even mention it. The solution is for him to do his job, to lead this city. The solution is for Mayor Barrett to show his face anywhere in the city besides from behind a podium in a climate controlled room. Hold some townhalls, some forums, take some photo-ops at a few of the schools that started back up yesterday. Most importantly, actually listen to the people and their concerns for a change.
This problem did not just pop up out of the blue. There are thousands of testimonials out there not only regarding police-citizen relations, but also problems with response times for emergencies. The central issue is those concerns falling upon deaf ears. Do you know what happens when people, young or old, feel ignored? They lash out in an attempt get people’s attention. Call it immature or call it a temper tantrum if you want. But in this world, and especially in this city, there exists a hierarchy. This city and this mayor have proven time and time again that in this hierarchy our needs are not credible, our concerns not pressing.
The resentment and lip service Barrett has shown to the inner city has only allowed these feelings to fester. Barrett has failed this city repeatedly, so it only seems most appropriate that his biggest test on his biggest stage culminates with his biggest failure yet. I, for one, am not waiting any longer for Barrett to do what he gave an oath to do. If we as citizens have to do his job for him and he continues to showcase cowardice and an absence of leadership, then come next election Mayor Barrett may not be mayor much longer.