Milwaukee: learning the wrong lessons
On Saturday, August 13, a black man named Sylville Smith was shot and killed by a cop in Milwaukee.
The anger that erupted in response lead to two days of violence in the streets of the city, with businesses and cars trashed, rocks and bricks thrown, guns fired in what's become known as the "Milwaukee uprising."
I'm not here to pass judgement on the cop: According to various sources, his body cam - the recording has not been released at the time I write this - shows that Smith was carrying a gun in his hand and that he aimed it at the cop. In those circumstances, you really can't blame the cop for firing and I don't.
What I am concerned about is the reaction to the reaction, the reaction, that is, to the anger in the streets. I fear that - as happens all too often - we will learn all the wrong lessons from this, draw all the comforting but deeply wrong conclusions.
This explosion of anger and frustration - which is what riots are - was decades in the making. It reflects deep-seeded and long-standing ills and pain.
But I fear we won't say that. We won't say this is a call to justice, a call to repair the social fabric, a call to alleviate suffering, a call to challenge bigotry.
I fear that instead of blaming racism and injustice and poverty and desperation, we will blame - as some already have - the "underclass" and its "behaviors." We will blame "tribal behavior." We will blame "outside agitators" - one official even specifically named the Revolutionary Communist Party from Chicago.
We will hear about "cop haters" and people who just "want to riot, to steal and loot."
We will be told over and over in statements full of tut-tuts and clicking tongues how "violence solves nothing" as if hunger, unemployment, and police brutality were not themselves violent and by implication how passive acquiescence - that is, "don't bother me" with your troubles - solves everything because it allows us to ignore those problems.
I fear, that is, that even as the roots of the anger are getting some notice in the media, even as some attention is being paid to the long-standing pain in Milwaukee, that it will be just another blip on our social and political radar and we will at the end of the day chalk it up to how "those people don't know how to behave."
And so relearn all the wrong lessons.
Sources cited in links: