In 18 years as a working daily newspaperman I learned that conflict makes news. I've spent the 19 years since unlearning that trite journalistic trope.
The hunger for controversy informs the Wisconsin State Journal's story today on Wednesday night's Neighborhoods Restoring Safety meeting at Falk elementary school in the Greentree neighborhood. It is headlined "'Residents' bill of rights' worries some neighbors."
Yes, some fret that we're targeting the less fortunate. Others that it doesn't go far enough. That tells me that the organizers - Tom McKenna of Orchard Ridge, Dave Glomp of Meadowood, Don Severson of Midvale Heights, and County Board Supervisor Ronn Ferrell of Greentree - are on the right track. I admire their courage. I am grateful for their leadership.
[WARNING: State Journal Reporter Chris Rickert describes these people as "all older, white men." So, in that vein - and this one blog only - I will characterize people by race, age, and gender.]
It would have been the easiest thing in the world to sit at home and grouse about city hall. But they took the mayor's challenge that:
Public safety is not the business of police or government alone. The city, county and schools must do their part but they will not be successful without the grassroots efforts of strong community and neighborhood leaders.
Over 200 people attended and the meeting was - dare I say it - orderly, with moderator Severson setting ground rules for civility. A code of conduct, one might say.
Dave Glomp made the call to action: "We can't be prisoners in our own homes. The police can't be everywhere at every minute. … I am not suggesting vigilantism but vigilance," Glomp said. "We need to step up and confront behaviors that are bothersome to us." He urged citizens to be "conversational, not confrontational."
I disagree with the last part. I'm not having a conversation with the people (young and white) hitting golf balls into our back yards. I'm the adult and I am getting in their faces - in a very controlled way (always more effective).
Indeed, the Bill of Rights declares that citizens
Can confront bad behavior in their neighborhoods and be supported in doing so by other residents and police when necessary.
But that demonstrates the middle ground represented by this movement.
He's so not there
Speaking of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, (middle aged, white, male) where was he? Where was anyone from his staff? That is an unforgivable slight on a night where that a multitude of public officials attended. I am paranoid enough to suspect that the mayor, informally, tried to damp down this movement. I await his denial.
While the mayor and his staff were conspicuously absent, other government institutions were well represented: Madison School Board president Arlene Silveira (middle aged white female) and members Beth Moss, Maya Cole, Marge Passman, Ed Hughes, and three school principals (all middle aged, white, of varying genders). Police Captain Jay Lengfeld (middle aged, white, male) and neighborhood officers Justine Harris (young white female) and John Amos (middle aged white male) attended. So did County Sheriff Dave Mahoney (middle aged white male), which impressed me greatly. As well as a number of alders and county board members, including Ald. Jed Sanborn and Supv. Diane Hesselbein (young white male and female, respectively), who told me she danced with my brother Mike (older white male) at a function in the Dells. (Ald. Pham-Remmele [older asian female] was called away to visit her seriously ill and aging mother [even older asian female] in California.) Did not see The Kathleen. Here's who else wasn't there: Bicycle Boy (young, white and stupid)!
The people speak
The very first "citizen" to speak was an Orchard Ridge older white male whom I did not recognize. The fellow bordered on racism when he said "the complexion" of the neighborhood had changed. Perhaps it was just an unfortunate choice of words. "Put the problem people somewhere else," he demanded. But he was the only person who spoke that way Wednesday night at Falk.
On the other extreme was Lisa Kass (older white female) who (wouldn't you know it?) is a school teacher. "Just because someone is different doesn't mean people are bad," she said, demonstrating a flair for tautologies. Other than the first speaker (arguably), no one alleged different.
Here is the most racist thing your host can say: Let's have two sets of behavior, one for one race and a lesser standard for another race. That is separate but unequal!
Then Kass (she teaches our children?) committed the sin of moral equivalence. One of the Bill of Rights prohibits loud noise after 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. weekends.
"Where is the prohibition against leaf blowers at 7:30 in the morning?" she demanded.
Hey, for my money, add it to the list. Pisses me off, too. Still, it is hard to see 200 people taking an hour and a half out of a weekday evening to bitch about leaf blowers and lawn mowers - either in Green Tree or Allied Drive. Hey, at least the blowers and mowers are keeping their properties tidy! Or, is "neat" now prima facie evidence of racism?
Yes, leaf-blowing in the early morning is inconsiderate and annoying but yelling the M-F word is inconsiderate, annoying, obscene, morally offensive, and disturbing.
Then Ms. Kass hand-slapped her seatmate Florenzo Cribbs (young black male), president of Allied Drive-Dunn's Marsh neighborhood. Prior to the event Cribbs encouraged his e-mail list to attend the meeting. "DON'T LET THE PROWER STRUCTOR THAT ALLOWED THE PROBLEWS CREAT THE RULES FOR TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEMS."
I e-mailed back to inquire as to who might be the power structure that "allowed the problems." Mayor Cieslewicz? Kathleen Falk? Jim E. Doyle? Barack Obama?
He never answered that question but in a subsequent e-mailed rejected my compliment for his good work in Allied Drive and vowed "yes WE will be there tonight to tell you just how much we REJECT your Code of Conduct and Resident 'Bill of Right! Good day sir!"
(What's more, Florenzo had been invited to the preliminary meetings and attended at least one in my presence.)
When it came his turn to talk, Mr. Cribbs did very little rejecting of the code. He did object to one of them: singling out people on probation and parole.
The Bill of Rights puts
a limit on the concentration of persons on probation and parole or on electronic monitoring in specific areas or neighborhoods.
"They've already been judged once; you'll be judging them twice," Cribbs argued.
Fair enough, a concrete suggestion. One I, personally, reject but, at least, it's a concrete suggestion. (Here is why I reject it: a person on probation or parole is, by those very terms, subject to extra scrutiny by the community while he/she is out in that community during the transitional period of their probation and parole. Sorry, that's the price of the "get out of jail early" card. You ARE being judged for how well you integrate back into the community.) Cribbs promoted the Fill the Gap program that he runs, which "changes people by changing their thought processes." Hey, I'm all for that!
Afterwards, I went up to Mr. Cribbs and told him that I applauded his remarks and that fact alone ought to keep him awake at night. He chuckled at that.
Man of the year
Cribbs may have trimmed his sails a bit because, speaking immediately before him, was James Monroe (older black male), pastor of True Worshippers Community Church on Fish Hatchery Road. He is a man whose very presence seems to command respect. Jim Monroe said the admonitions of the code should be informed with Christian love.
"We not going to let kids kill each other or rob or beat each other - but on the basis that we care about them."
Jim Monroe leads a group of men who walk the streets of some of our troubled neighborhoods seeking to mentor young people who need direction. (He ministers to young people incarcerated at the Juvenile Detention Center.) He is the 2009 "Man of the Year" at Stately Blaska Manor." [See Blaska's Blog: Saying we love you.]
Monroe's, I agree, is the most effective method - especially coming from an older black male, a man of religion. But, I tell you what, ignoring a problem, pretending it does not exist, refusing to confront bad behavior does not send the love message either. Instead, it communicates very strongly the message that we just don't care what you do or what you think so feel free to have at it. Perhaps we'll step in when the shooting starts.
That was another lesson I took away from the event: that each of us has a role to play. If the squire of Stately Blaska Manor (old, white as Wonder Bread, and still masculine enough not to need artificial additives) has to be the bad cop to Jim Monroe's good cop, then so be it.
Each of us has a role to play.
Here's Blaska's Bottom Line: You could put the Bill of Rights/Code of Conduct up for a vote in a legislative body and some of the provisions would be amended, others eliminated, still others added. In all likelihood the final result would be a pureed mishmash of meaninglessness. One will never get agreement on all of the points. Nor need we. I, for instance, will continue to confront the prison/gang-influenced low-rider wearers.
The older white males who organized the Falk confab did not invent the notion of "treating all members of the community with dignity and respect."
And when they say, "Citizens, not the city or police, set the rules of appropriate conduct and behavior of all neighborhood residents," that is a reflection that our statutes and ordinances cover only crime, not quality of life - that our police are no longer the "night watchmen" who kept order without recourse to an interminable second-guessing of the court system, as Kelling and Wilson describe it.
Them's fighting words
The Code "promotes personal responsibility, respect, and civility." I realize those are fighting words in today's permissive society.
Visitors to Stately Blaska Manor have seen my interlocutors urge indifference to the sprayers of the M-F word under the eaves of their neighbors. ("It's easily ignored," wrote one.) Yes, these young people are accustomed to being ignored. Their parents ignore them and the schools effectively ignore them, shunting them off to special classes. They need to be confronted - shown that some behaviors are not acceptable - and encouraged to take a different path.
My on-line editor Jason Joyce (young white male), whom I saw Wednesday night at Falk, contends that young people have always acted inappropriately. ("As long as there have been parks, there have been teenagers engaging in behavior in them that is unappreciated by the elder population.")
Yes, and as long as there have been adults, those adults have taught the teenagers the inappropriateness of their conduct. That is what helps teenagers - who think they are immortal and the world revolves around them like a pre-Copernican sun - become adults. At least, until the present day. And look what we have for a result.
Fran Ervin (older white female) from Midvale Heights reflected the sentiments of most of those with whom I spoke informally last night. She decried the lack of discipline in the schools. "We can't let the kids run the schools."
Indeed, Arlene Silveira said that being public, the Madison schools can't say no to anyone. I thought, that's the problem, until she clarified that she meant admissions. Yes, Arlene, but once they're there ... !!!
Robert Howard (older black male), a school social worker, was one of the last people to speak. "I commend this effort as a starting place; you've got to start somewhere. Hopefully, we'll see everybody this weekend at Elver Park."
Final word: The Neighborhoods Restoring Safety meeting August 26 was everything I could have hoped for. A starting point, a work in progress, but a call to action with a clear goal and usable tools to get there.