CALEDONIA — The report that designated the greater Racine area as the second-worst metropolitan area in the U.S. for black people has generated a lot of discussion over the last week.
It was discussed at a Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce legislative breakfast on Thursday, a Racine City Council meeting on Tuesday as well as at a Caledonia meeting Wednesday.
Caledonia Village Board trustees, none of whom are black, weighed in with varied opinions.
Former State Rep. Tom Weatherston, who rejoined the Village Board this year, questioned the validity of 24/7 Wall Street’s recently released study. That study — which looked at Census data about income, poverty, education attainment, homeownership and unemployment — concluded that the greater Racine area was the second-worst metro for African Americans in the U.S.
Milwaukee was the only area in the country with a worse ranking.
24/7 Wall Street’s study showed that the median annual income for black households in the Racine area averaged less than half of white households. The median black household earned $27,658 a year, while the median white household brought in $64,321 in Racine County.
The study also showed that four black people in the Racine-area are four times more likely to live in poverty than white people, and that the unemployment rate for black residents is almost triple that of white residents.
“The key thing I get from that report,” Weatherston said, “is that there’s no jobs for African Americans in Downtown Racine: there’s no jobs for anybody in Downtown Racine. But the report is targeted toward one ethnic group, so obviously we have a failing grade.”
The vast majority of Racine County’s black residents live in the city, while more than 70% of the county’s white residents live outside of the city.
Weatherston also said he was confused by how Racine could be ranked so poorly with racial inequality, but then was showed such improvement regarding LGBT issues; last month, the national gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign raised the City of Racine’s Municipal Equality Index score from a relatively low 41 up to 86.
“I don’t know how we can be great in one area and not in another area,” Weatherston concluded.
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Trustee Fran Martin quickly countered Weatherston and accused him of being blind to discrimination.
“It’s perfectly possible for a city to be a great place for the LGBT community and a very difficult place for African Americans. And I will say that when you’re a member of the OWG club — the Old White Guy club (referring to Weatherston) — you’ve never faced discrimination,” Martin said. “It (discrimination) is invisible if you haven’t experienced it. It is there.”
Weatherston said he would like to see a more in-depth study of race in the greater Racine area. “I’d love it if someone else were to do that same investigation and tell us if there really is an issue in town,” he said.
Then at the Thursday morning legislative breakfast, Village President Jim Dobbs also questioned the study.
“I don’t buy it,” Dobbs said, sharing a similar opinion to Weatherston: that the situation of racial inequality might not be as bad as 24/7 Wall Street made it out to be.
A possible block to collaboration
The focus of Wednesday’s Village Board meeting was on the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s study of possible consolidation between the Caledonia, Racine and South Shore fire departments.
And before Martin and Weatherston weighed in during Wednesday’s meeting, Trustee Kevin Wanggaard took some time to voice issues he had with a commentary written by Racine Mayor Cory Mason that was published in The Journal Times on Nov. 14.
In that commentary, Mason wrote that the analysis from 24/7 Wall Street: “only helps to reinforce arguments that I have been making since I first took office — disparities between the City of Racine and our surrounding villages and towns are problematic, inequitable, and continue to grow.”
Wanggaard said Caledonia shouldn’t be asked to “support the City of Racine,” as he felt Mason was requesting. Wanggaard continued by saying Mason’s commentary makes it more difficult for municipalities like Caledonia to work with Racine.
“I was kind of taken back by that article,” Wanggaard said, referring to Mason’s commentary. “That does nothing to help our footing to help us consolidate with anybody.”
Racinians show optimism at National Night Out
RACINE — Racinians have faced their share of violent tragedies in the past three months.
To reduce crime, one of the antidotes city leaders and residents have proposed is getting residents to know each other better and look out for each other.
That’s one of the main goals of the Neighborhood Watch’s National Night Out event, which saw nearly 6,000 people participate in almost 60 citywide gatherings Tuesday evening. Worldwide, some 38 million people participated in 16,000 communities.
Mayor Cory Mason paid homage to the late Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s television host, calling for more people to actually meet their neighbors, in a speech during the National Night Out kickoff event at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3700 Washington Ave.
City leaders want more people like Pinkie Smith on the 1800 block of Villa Street.
For 28 years, Smith has hosted a party on National Night Out, getting friends, family and neighbors together to have fun peacefully, catering food and offering school supplies to families in the neighborhood. Tuesday just so happened to also be Smith’s 75th birthday, and her family surprised her with an even bigger party for National Night Out.
Local leaders hope that that connectivity will drive down crime and violence.
Data supports efforts
“While one night is certainly not the answer to crime, drugs and violence, National Night Out represents the kind of spirit, energy and determination needed to help make communities safer year-round,” Charlie French, Racine Neighborhood Watch’s executive director, said.
Several of the speakers at Tuesday’s kickoff event — which included Police Chief Art Howell, County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, 12th District Alderman Henry Perez and State Rep. Greta Neubauer, R-Racine, — praised and thanked Racine’s first responders, noting their efforts to keep the community safe in spite of the dangers of their job.
U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., who also spoke at the event, said: “It’s been a really tough year for the Racine Police Department, and I know everybody’s thoughts and prayers are with you guys. You guys have been on the front line keeping our community safe ... To have that relationship back in the community (between residents and first responders) is essential.”
Racine County District Attorney Tricia Hanson had a call to action for Racinians: “We need each and every one of you, and each and every one of the neighbors, to watch out for each others’ kids, to watch out for each others’ property, to make sure we cooperate when law enforcement does show up in those unfortunate times when something tragic happens in the neighborhood.”
As French said, National Night Out was only “one night.” To make change and reduce violence, the city’s leaders say there need to be more people like Smith — bringing everyone together.
“I was knocking on doors this afternoon in Racine,” Neubauer said, “and we certainly have work to do in this community, but also folks are really positive about the community-building, the conversations that are happening right now. And (I am) so grateful to everybody here who has been a critical part of that relationship building.”
“We need each and every one of you, and each and every one of the neighbors, to watch out for each others’ kids, to watch out for each others’ property, to make sure we cooperate when law enforcement does show up in those unfortunate times when something tragic happens in the neighborhood.” Tricia Hanson, Racine County district attorney
Dawn Friend, 42, lives just west of Humble Park
“I still do feel pretty safe living here. There’s a lot of violence, but our police department is out there and on top of things really quickly.”
What’s one thing you wish you could change? “A reduction in gun violence, if there’s anything we can do about it.”
Matthew Olson, 42, lives on the south side
“I’ve never been a firsthand witness to violence here, thankfully. But it’s an issue we all need to be thinking about and aware of … I’d love to see more positive experiences for our teenagers and young adults; places for them to go … We need more people plugged in.”
Jeff Schultz, 64, lives near Horlick High School
“We need to get more people on Nextdoor.com. It’s like a Neighborhood Facebook. You can tell each other about things you saw, somebody you saw lurking around, stuff life that … I think that’s valuable. Everyone is using technology, so I think that would be one really great thing.”
Charlie French, Racine Neighborhood Watch executive director
“While one night is certainly not the answer to crime, drugs and violence, National Night Out represents the kind of spirit, energy and determination needed to help make communities safer year-round … We really do have this community partnership with law enforcement — whether it be police, sheriff’s, state patrol. They’re all out there tonight, going into the communities, showing the citizens what it’s all about. And they’re learning about what’s going on in the different neighborhoods.”
Rep. Bryan Steil, Congressman for Wisconsin's 1st District
“It’s been a really tough year for the Racine Police Department, and I know everybody’s thoughts and prayers are with you guys. You guys have been on the front line keeping our community safe. I think it’s really important today that we’re going to spend a night in the community having that conversation about the strength of our community here in Racine, about what you guys are doing to keep our community safe, (and) the interaction between our police force and the community here in Racine … To have that relationship back in the community (with first responders) is essential.”
Rep. Greta Neubauer, Racine's State Assembly representative
“I was knocking on doors this afternoon in Racine, and we certainly have work to do in this community, but also folks are really positive about the community-building, the conversations that are happening right now. And (I am) so grateful to everybody here who has been a critical part of that relationship building.”
Cory Mason, City of Racine mayor
National Night Out “is a celebration of community-oriented policing, which is not something that we do one night a year. It’s something our police department does day after day after day, often under difficult circumstances. I want to acknowledge that long-standing commitment. It really is about our police department and our law enforcement working with the community and solving problems together.”
Jonathan Delagrave, Racine County executive
“To our law enforcement and our first responders, your job becomes more important every day in our community. I wanted to acknowledge that and give a big thank you there … The county is only as strong as its nonprofits and faith-based entities, and that includes Neighborhood Watch.”
Patricia Hanson, Racine County district attorney
“I grew up in the Lincoln School area, and I can tell you today that if were to go down the block I could tell you who lived in every house. We’ve lost a little bit of that … I’m going to tell you, there’s no way that we in law enforcement can do this job alone. We need each and every one of you, and each and every one of the neighbors, to watch out for each others’ kids, to watch out for each others’ property, to make sure we cooperate when law enforcement does show up in those unfortunate times when something tragic happens in the neighborhood.”
Art Howell, police chief of the Racine Police Department
“On a serious note, tough year for our department. But I can stand here before you with a great amount of humility mixed with pride that the people who you see here from the police department and the sheriff’s department, they still go to work every day. They are a resilient people. They do what they do not because they make a lot of money. They do what they because it’s a calling.”