RACINE - The Racine Branch NAACP plans to issue a report accusing city officials and local business owners of intentionally keeping blacks and minorities from taking part in the redevelopment of Downtown Racine.
The report, titled "Downtown Racine, Sun City, Sister City or Gaza on Lake Michigan: A Report on the State of Racine's Downtown," was submitted this week to the organization's executive committee, according to Craig Oliver, the NAACP's community coordinator.
A leaked copy of the report found its way online this week, but local NAACP leaders aren't commenting on the report that accuses "Downtown stakeholders" of being "no more than modern day plantation owners, using slave catchers to do their bidding."
On Wednesday, Oliver referred all questions about the report to Racine Branch NAACP President Michael Shields, who is on his way to Kansas City for the NAACP's annual convention this weekend.
Reached by cell phone Wednesday, Shields, who also represents the 3rd District on the City Council, said he would not address any questions about the report until after the executive committee has discussed it. The committee meets later this month, Shields said. A copy of the report will be sent to Downtown business owners, he said.
He also declined to answer questions about the information used to generate the report or who specifically wrote the report, which refers only to "public records."
Neither Shields nor Oliver would confirm what the title of the 10-page report referred to, other than to say that the report referred to the conditions of Downtown as the organization sees them.
Both said a copy of the report that is available online was not meant to be released. The report was leaked, according to both Shields and Oliver, to at least two local websites.
In a letter dated July 6 and addressed to "community occupants," Shields states that there has been a lot of both negative and positive activity in the Downtown area and that the organization has received "a number of negative complaints whenever things have not gone exceptionally well."
The report was commissioned, the letter states, because the NAACP could not "staff full investigations of each incident (with the exception of the major ones)."
The report is also critical of the Racine Police Department and accuses police of actively harassing blacks and minorities who come Downtown after dark.
Racine Police Chief Kurt Wahlen said he met with Oliver about some of the issues addressed in the report, but was unaware that a report would be written based on that meeting. Wahlen said he has a difference of opinion about the issues raised in the NAACP report.
"It's divisive. It doesn't deal with what I consider the facts on hand. That's the problem I have. The city is not involved in segregation or anything like that," Wahlen said. "The city wants good businesses Downtown and doesn't care who runs them. I think the city is color blind on all that."
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Wahlen said he believes the report, which he read online, centered around two businesses on Sixth Street - The Place on Sixth, 509 Sixth St., and Park 6, both minority-owned businesses.
Wahlen said the stretch of Sixth Street often requires a large police presence when both bars let out at closing time and officers are often required to deal with unruly behavior from bar patrons.
Bar owners claim discrimination
A city committee will hold a due process hearing later this month with Thomas Holmes, owner of Park 6, 500 Sixth St., to consider whether to suspend or revoke his liquor license because of incidents in and around his bar.
Holmes, who lives in Milwaukee, said he doesn't believe that it is a black/white issue, but he feels that black bars have been hit hard when it comes to being called before the city for questioning. While he admits he's had some problems, like others, Holmes said, "The perception of black crime and white crime is different. It's louder."
Holmes said there is a lot of truth in the NAACP report, based on his experience as a business owner in Racine.
"I can't speak for other people. I just know what's going on with me. I think that a lot of things that's going on down there is perception. To some degree I'm unfairly picked on," Holmes said. "People should work together to find out what the problem really is instead of trying to close establishments."
The city's Public Safety and Licensing Committee also called Keith Fair in recently for questioning about incidents near his establishment, The Place on Sixth. The committee eventually renewed Fair's license. Fair serves on the NAACP's executive committee. Fair also served on the City Council representing the Downtown area.
Fair said he had nothing to do with the report and said he distanced himself from any involvement in it as a member of the NAACP's executive committee so there was no appearance of bias. Fair said he believes city officials are treating minority business owners unfairly.
"I have a vested interest in the report because it affects the quality of life in the Downtown area," Fair said. "Discrimination is discrimination and racism is racism and it's alive and well in Racine."
The report is also critical of a private security firm hired by and paid for by Downtown business owners.
Calls for comment to Devin Sutherland, executive director of Downtown Racine Corp., were not returned Wednesday.
The report alludes to the possibility that the NAACP will contact the Wisconsin and U.S. Justice Departments based on what members believe is the "unequal treatment of blacks and minorities" and to "make sure constitutional protections are not being circumvented for a privileged few or turned into a mutant variation of Jim Crow laws."