I am a big fan of Madison Police Chief Noble Wray. The man must walk a tightrope between an ultra-liberal Common Council, an increasingly restive population of crime and quality of life victims, and - I suspect - the better instincts of his own uniformed officers.
Nonetheless, the chief whacked a hornet's nest when he was quoted in Monday's Wisconsin State Journal thusly:
In some cases, long-time residents of some neighborhoods are afraid of young blacks and Hispanics who are not breaking the law. In those cases, the newcomers to a neighborhood may need to adjust their behavior, and long-time residents will have to accept behaviors that feel strange and scary, Wray said.
"As I'm driving home, there's this group of kids that walk across the street and they don't walk fast, they walk slow, and they stare me down and they look at me. And then they eventually get across the street," Wray said.
That behavior isn't illegal, but it should not become the new normal in Madison neighborhoods, he said.
Race, poverty, immigration, and a clash of cultures play into Madison's perception of its crime problem. [Crime has gotten personal in Madison]
That prompted this e-mail to the chief from a resident of one of our troubled neighborhoods here on the Southwest side:
Dear Chief Wray,
I am writing out of concern with the statements attributed to you in yesterday's Wisconsin State Journal. Like many of the people on the SW side of Madison, I find the neighborhood is changing there are more blacks, Hispanics and according to the CDA (Community Development Authority) ever increasing numbers of low income people moving into our neighborhoods.
Certainly there are cultural differences to be appreciated groups gathering on front porches, in garages and on driveways rather than back yards which is more typical of whites. There is a new kind of music some I can appreciate, a good Latin beat or upbeat jazz. Some, I cannot tolerate rap music blaring offensive language, denigrating women. There are indeed, large groups of kids walking around. I know this is perfectly legal and really, it doesn't scare me.
What does scare me is the tone of the article, which insinuates that small things stolen from the front yard (a bike, an ornament, fencing, tools?) and loud music (3 hours of booming bass coming from Elver Park, loud music, fighting, glass breaking at 2 am?) are things we should get used to. Is this truly what is meant? I have attached a sheet enumerating the problems faced in the SW neighborhoods. The first several items are annoyances which while they may be intimidating, are not illegal.
On occasion I have called the police to report such a problem when it posed a safety issue. I do not like any of these behaviors, and have no intent of "getting used to it". They are disrespectful and I think to say that they are "cultural" is a terrible slight to any culture. It's a bit like telling teachers to forgive disrespectful behaviors in the classroom and lower their standards. Who does this serve? No one!
Having lived in my neighborhood for 13 years, I have seen changes and have many stories of problems faced by my neighbors and myself. Most recently, a 5-year-old boythrew a rock shattering but not breaking a car window. He returned the next evening to try again - another hole where the rock hit, but the window still did not break. It did however need to be replaced. The youngster got caught and confessed. The owner of the vehicle (my neighbor) reported the incident to the police. It is my hope that the police actually paid a visit to the parents of the child to hopefully get help in paying for the damages and to let the parents and the child know that the law had been broken.
I have been an active participant in various neighborhood functions designed to improve communication between neighbors. Over the past 8 years this has included helping to arrange a neighborhood picnic, holiday party, several clean-up days, a garage sale, neighborhood bonfire, and participating in neighborhood safety walks. Given the problems we're having today, I can't say these efforts have been fruitful. In fact, last year my friend and I did some walks and were fairly visible about calling the police with disturbing behaviors.
In payment for this, my friend was a target of miscreant behavior and had a rock thrown through the rear windshield of her car twice. She moved out of the area at the end of the summer. As a consequence, I do not want to be noticed as someone who is actively involved. I certainly would not personally approach any house playing loud music or confront the parent of an unruly child. Too many of the residents are willing to retaliate and many have weapons.
The other problems listed which have all occurred in my neighborhood are self-explanatory. They are illegal and worthy of police involvement. I don't know how many calls the police have received about young kids gathering on a front porch, but I do know that there are serious offenses being committed in our neighborhoods. I am pleased that after the safety meeting of 2007 more police were added to patrol our area. While I no longer feel safe walking on our streets alone at night, I know I have the safety of police protection when I am in need. The problems are ongoing and I am grateful that alder Thuy continues to carry the banner for safety in the SW Madison neighborhoods.
Certainly leadership and parenting are lacking. What I see is a generation either ignorant of respectful behavior or having no regard for law and civility. This is truly scary. Our youth are our future and it doesn't look good. Many of the offensive behaviors are displayed by black youth. These behaviors do not represent black culture. They reflect a lack of individual responsibility and a lack of respect. Perhaps these youth have come from Chicago or Allied Drive to live here and they have no frame of reference for living in an established neighborhood.
This can be addressed people need to know that there are laws and they are being enforced. If some families are on the CDA voucher program - perhaps CDA could require some type of education on how to live respectfully in a neighborhood. It may be useful for the city to establish some policy that would disperse section 8 housing throughout the city so that there not the concentrated pockets that exist now. And, as you stated, the problem of negligent landlords needs to be addressed. The chronic nuisance ordinance is one tool. I would also like to see the city discuss licensing of landlords which may be more effective and efficient.
The overall message in the article was that we need a frank discussion on race and more understanding of different cultures. I totally agree that communication and openness to understanding different cultures are requisites of a civil society. The problem I have is attributing disrespectful behaviors and criminal/illegal activities to a particular culture or race. This has never been my intent nor that of any of my friends or neighbors. Ours are issues of behavior, not of race. To insinuate that the valid complaints of those living in the SW neighborhoods are racially motivated is a disservice to the whole community.
I thank you for reading this letter and for considering my thoughts on the problems faced by residents in SW Madison.