Update, January 3:
The American Red Cross of Southeast Wisconsin has decided to rescind it's policy change and will continue to serve people in all of Milwaukee's zip codes at the site of disasters.
The American Red Cross of Southeast Wisconsin is receiving a lot of backlash over a new policy unveiled in Milwaukee that would require people in specific zip codes to come to them for help.
If you’ve ever dealt with a fire emergency, there’s a presence at the scene you’ve likely expected—the American Red Cross handing out blankets and providing people with information about temporary housing.
But last week, the Red Cross of Southeast Wisconsin unveiled a plan that would require residents in 10 different Milwaukee zip codes to meet representatives at police stations instead of at the scene.
The zip codes impacted are 53204, 53205, 53206, 53208, 53209, 53210, 53215, 53216, 53218 and 53233.
Since the unveiling, the Red Cross has said it plans to expand the policy throughout the city and state, noting that it already does not go out to fires in rural communities. Still, it hasn’t been lost upon residents like Vaun Mayes that the 10 zip codes in question are largely made up of black and Latino residents.
“Milwaukee took a huge 'L' (loss) for the year in race relations. And this was another one right at the very end of the year,” he says.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more socially acceptable for black and brown people to be discriminated against, Mayes says. And he says given the relationship between police and communities of color in Milwaukee, asking people to meet Red Cross representatives at police departments is a slap in the face. Mayes points to tension over police shootings and the leaked draft Department of Justice report that was critical of how the Milwaukee Police Department treats people of color here as proof of the disregard being shown.
“People are at a high distrust for law enforcement. So to tell a person whose house has just burned down or who needs any other kinds of services that they may offer to meet me at a police station is a lot to ask,” he says.
And then Mayes says there’s the fact that the policy is pushing a narrative that Milwaukee is a war zone and that people are scared to come here. Some city leaders have also expressed outrage.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett met with the Red Cross in a closed door meeting on Monday and had this to say after: “They can’t be separate but equal services. This has to be something where regardless of where you are in the Metropolitan area, the treatment needs to be the same. So that if someone in an outlying area has services right at the site of the fire, we have to do that."
Barrett says he sees opportunity in the situation to not only get more people who are willing to not only volunteer, but who feel comfortable going into all Milwaukee neighborhoods.
The Red Cross of Southeast Wisconsin did not return phone calls for this story but released a statement saying that the changes are due to staff shortages. The organization also again stressed that the changes would be expanded citywide.