Serious issues regarding race must be addressed in Wisconsin.
Outside of Bobby Kennedy's impromptu speech upon the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I don't think I've ever heard or read a white liberal say anything useful about race. We either come off as excruciatingly politically correct or condescending or both. Most of the time, we just don't know what we're talking about.
So, I'm not going to write about what happened in Ferguson or the reaction to it. I'll leave that to people who have a better understanding of all those complexities. It's beyond presumptuous for a guy who grew up white and middle class to pretend he gets it -- better to be quiet and just listen.
But the controversy that comes from this and too many similar recent cases should, I think, cast a stronger light on two issues here in Wisconsin, both of which were raised last week at a rally in Madison.
The first is the need for police officers to wear body cameras. The decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown hinged on conflicting accounts of their encounter. Was he charging toward the officer or raising his arms in a gesture of submission? A camera could have answered that question.
So, it seems to me that Ald. Scott Resnick, a mayoral candidate, is absolutely right to be pushing the Madison Police Department to equip all officers with body cameras, and sooner rather than later. His compromise amendment to phase in cameras passed the Common Council during the budget process. Resnick's impatience is well-placed, and he is showing real and important leadership on this issue. Every local police department and the Wisconsin State Patrol should be outfitted with cameras, and despite some skepticism, it looks like Madison will lead the way on this practice.
The second issue that I hope Ferguson will help emphasize is the high incarceration rate among African American men in Wisconsin. Our state has the highest rate in the nation with 13% of adult black men in prison; the national average is 3%. It is inconceivable that black men in Wisconsin are that much more involved in crime. There's something fundamentally wrong in our system.
And we're not even talking about it. The recent race for state Attorney General would have been an excellent opportunity to begin that discussion in earnest, and yet neither candidate addressed it. What's even worse, the press didn't ask about it and editorial boards and commentators didn't try to make it an issue. It's one thing for politicians to duck issues they think will make voters uncomfortable; it's worse when the press lets them duck.
But now that Brad Schimel is safely elected, he could start to address what seems to me to be the top criminal justice issue in our state -- not heroin, but what appears to be institutionalized racism in Wisconsin's criminal justice system. And if Schimel won't broach the topic, then the press should with deeper coverage and editorial prodding. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel took a good step in that direction with an excellent front-page piece on Sunday in which it documented two men, one black and one white, who committed very similar crimes. The white man did five years in prison. The black man has done 19 years and counting.
Most of us don't have anything meaningful to add to the Ferguson debate, but we have plenty to repair right here at home.