The first warm day of the year, David Clarke's Sheriff's department claims the Milwaukee Lakefront, Lincoln Memorial Drive, off limits to minorities.
I've watched this happen 4 years in a row, and just can't take being silent on it anymore. Someone MUST say something.
Milwaukee's lakefront is public property. It's maintained by the County (although not very well these days, Bradford Beach is a disgusting mess of putrid algae thanks to Walker's negligence). That means that EVERYONE has the right to enjoy the Lakefront.
But a dirty little conspiracy is underfoot and I have to take you back and give you a bit of a history lesson to make my point on this one...
When I was a child (the 1970's), the Lakefront had what was called The Alternate Site in a large open field across the street from McKinley Beach. On weekends, hippies (yes the real, original ones) would bring their children and animals down and spend the days listening to music, throwing frisbees, and enjoying picnicing while the city put on free concerts with bands playing on a bandstand on the North end of the field. It was peaceful and many people put up booths including local artisans. From my child's eye perspective, those days on the lakefront with my parents and their friends, the music playing in the background, and people wandering around talking about peace all day are some of the happiest memories of my life.
The Alternate Site was closed down for good sometime in the late 70's because of complaints mainly noise problems by the wealthy residents who lived on the top of the lakefront. The real reason was that the racial harmony and peaceful hippie culture down there was threatening to the then police chief Harold Breier. The Breier Era is notoriously remembered as one of unspeakable actions to oppress, murder and segregate minorities in Milwaukee and many of his despicable thumbprints still haunt the Milwaukee Police Department's culture to this day (another blog perhaps).
The one remnant of the Alternate Site is the Lakefront Festival of the Arts. The artisan community banded together and created the festival as a free annual event over one weekend on the Alternate Site and it was eventually moved to Veteran's Park for space reasons as well as it's location near the Milwaukee Art Museum.
As the years went on, the Art Festival grew and even 15 years ago when my daughter was young, a lower income family could afford to spend the entire weekend as a family at the festival because of low admission prices and the remaining hippie culture that flowed through the event. I even remember buying artwork as a young woman because the prices were reasonable ($50 for an original painting).
Then the Art Museum took over the festival, hiked up prices on both admission for patrons as well as the artisans, and suddenly only upper middle class families and well established artisans could afford the event without putting it into their montly budgeting.
So back to public access to the Lakefront regardless of race. About 17 years ago or so, parking regulations were changed on Lincoln Memorial Drive.
Previously, anyone could go down there and park their car and enjoy the lakefront, 24 hours a day. The new laws were billed as a way to control the "illegal behavior" on the lakefront, but the real reason was again that the wealthy people on top of the hill didn't like the noise and "class of people" enjoying the lake. Now no one could park on the lakefront after 10pm.
This is still an outrageous imposition on all of us! After all, it's our lakefront, we pay taxes to maintain it and if I want to take my children down to watch the moon rise over the lake or star gaze, I ought to be able to do that regardless of the time of night.
An even uglier reason for the clamp down on the Lakefront occurred to me at the time...
Many economically disadvantaged people cannot afford air conditioning. Many African Americans in Milwaukee are economically disadvantaged. The Lakefront is often the coolest place in the city on a hot summer night.
As a result, the majority of people using the Lakefront in the evenings at the time it was shut down were African American.
The "10 o'clock sweep" as we started calling it became an accepted part of life on the Milwaukee lakefront. Starting a 9:00pm every night, the police and sheriffs department would bring down sometimes up to 20 cars to clear out the lots and enforce the parking ban. Once the lots were cleared, they put out barriers and locked them up for the night.
This went on for several years without mention and actually became an accepted practice.
Something changed about 3 or 4 years ago...
I started noticing that on the first few really warm nights of the years, the sweep began about 4:00pm? The sweep was not about kicking people out though, it was about pulling over as many blacks and latinos as possible and they came down with a force meant and prepared to do so...
Annually now, on the first few really warm nights of the year, a massive effort takes place. As you drive along Lincoln Memorial Drive, you will see sometimes 30 law enforcement vehicles, mostly sheriffs, but also usually 2-3 MPD cars with people pulled over on the side of the road. I've never seen one person pulled over during one of these sweeps in the last few years who is NOT a person of color!
No one could say that this isn't a massive attempt to intimidate blacks and latinos into staying off the lakefront. An effort this blatant can ONLY be pulled off with racial profiling as a component of it and with racial intimidation as it's goal.
So now we come full swing to this past Friday night. The tempurature was 90 degrees on top of the hill and 75 on the lakefront. The Lakefront Festival of the Arts has now been moved to the South side of the Museum to take advantage of the beautiful Calatrava as a back drop, admission is $10 a person, parking is another $10. Food is outrageously priced and try to find a piece of artwork under $100.
The most striking thing I noticed though is that the festival that was once so diverse is now nearly entirely white. Here's the website, I challenge you to find a black or latino face in any of the pictures of festival patrons out here, I found only one black person in a picture and she seems to be a volunteer in the Children's Area...
Perhaps this picture of the board has something to do with that?
So as I drove onto Lincoln Memorial from Michigan street on Friday night, I saw the Festival. Completely fenced in with police and sheriffs surrounding the place and patrolling inside on bikes in watch mode. Through the fence, I saw not one minority. Everyone was white, upper middle class and extremely well dressed considering the heat. As a professional black woman who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, even I was intimidated and decided right then that that many police could only be there to make minorities uncomfortable and whites feel safe.
As I drove under the Veterans Bridge, I saw exactly what I expected to see...
a sheriff with a black man pulled over in his car. The drive across the lakefront was no less disconcerting. I counted a total 13 cars pulled over and 4 more enforcement vehicles in the Bradford Beach lot each one stopped by a parked car with minorities in it. EVERY driver being detained was a person of color. It was rush hour. The wealthy were returning from work in cars all around me to their haven on the north shore, most of them white. All of them driving through the maze of lights, speeding at will, and NONE of them being pulled over. Sheriffs also had groups of minorites just walking down the sidewalk detained and being questioned.
As my white husband (driving) and I rounded the bottom of the hill towards Kenwood blvd another parking lot full of white youth was sitting on cars doing what young people of all races were trying to do on a hot Friday night on the lakefront (talking, laughing, playing music and flirting) undisturbed by law enforcement.
My husband's outrage at the scene was loud and palatable. We are well aware that he has to drive home on nights like these. We've made the mistake of me being behind the wheel once, (we were pulled over without reason two years ago during a scene like this, and let go as soon as my husband leaned over me to ask what the officer wanted). As we hit Lake Drive, cars with black people were turning to go down to the lakefront and my husband's outrage spilled into shouting at their cars "Don't go down there! They're sweeping!" to no one who could hear him but me.
No one EVER says anything about this??? Not the politicians, not the east side liberals, certainly not the north shore upper class for whom the specticle is performed...
What is the effect of these intimidation raids so early in the summer?
It's a shot over the bow and it works. Generally after about 2 or 3 of these scenes a year, minorities get the point and for the most part stay off the lakefront in large numbers throughout the summer. White Milwaukeeans feel safe because they see no blacks and latinos down there, and only one group of Milwaukeeans enjoys the lakefront the rest of the year.
Coincidentally?? It happened the first night of the Art Festival this year...
It happens every year...under a black Sheriff named David Clarke.