We’ve been reporting recently on a sharp uptick in violent crime in Milwaukee. Since the beginning of August, more than 25 people have been shot, and several died.
The central city of Milwaukee, and all of its problems, can seem very far away if you live at the edge of town, or in suburbs that have safe neighborhoods. But the idea that violence and its impacts are contained in a few, dangerous areas is shortsighted, according to Sam White.
“I would say that it is everyone in the region’s problem.”
White is interim dean and director of workforce development at UWM’s School of Continuing Education. He says high crime rates in cities hurt not just the people directly involved, but also the fortunes of homeowners, businesses and school districts miles and miles away.
White says violent crime undermines the city’s ability to attract young professionals, who are drawn to urban environments. Gunfire and gang activity also deter businesses from locating here. The overall result is fewer people living and working in a region, and less tax revenue for cities and suburbs to provide services.
And there are ripple effects over time – maybe class sizes go up if school districts lose funding, or people have trouble selling their homes, even in wealthy communities.
“We very much are a region and the quality of life in that region is quite dependent upon the quality of life in that central city,” White says.
“Everybody is going to wind up paying here.”
Stan Stojkovic is dean of UWM’s Helen Bader School of Social Welfare. He says like many large cities in the U.S., Milwaukee lacks the resources to fully address the underlying causes of violent crime – poverty, unemployment, and a school system that faces many challenges.
Stojkovic believes if nothing changes, residents statewide will be on the hook to bail Milwaukee out. For one thing, when hospitals treat gunshot victims who don’t have insurance, premiums go up for everyone else.
“The costs will be enormously expensive, whether its criminal justice costs, health care costs, taxes, you can’t avoid the city. I guess at the end of the day, that’s what’s really going on here,” Stojkovic says.
Beyond the financial ramifications of violence, he says there are great social costs.
“Further segregation, further alienation, further separation about peoples’ plight and also, their situations. Because if we can’t get this together, and I’ve said all along, Martin Luther King Jr. was correct, we are either going to live together as equals and or as brothers at one level, or we’re going to perish as fools,” Stojkovic says.
Ninety miles south of Milwaukee, Harold Pollack studies the impacts of gun violence in Chicago. He co-directs the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
“I think people are aware of the problem, they’re sad about the problem, but they’re not convinced that there’s anything that can realistically be done about the problem or that it directly affects their own life and livelihood. I think that’s one of the real obstacles to more effective responses to the violence,” Pollack says.
There are realistic ways to make cities like Milwaukee and Chicago safer, he says. Many mentoring programs have been shown to work, so have evidence-based policing strategies – but there needs to be a political will to fund such efforts.
“I think that we can take a much more, at once compassionate, but also hard-headed, approach to looking very carefully at what’s working and what’s not, and making sure that the interventions that are really effective have the funding that they need in places like Milwaukee,” Pollack says.
In response to the latest string of shootings in Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett pledged $500,000 to increase police overtime. Barrett wants the state to match those funds, but so far it appears Gov. Walker is not likely to send more money Milwaukee’s way.