The Untold Story

What’s the Matter With Wisconsin?

August 17, 2016

Multiple Pages
What’s the Matter With Wisconsin?

The celebrated Black Lives Matter movement chalked up another riot over the weekend, this time in Milwaukee.

A black cop shot an armed black criminal and much passive-voice news reporting ensued. The New York Times wrote, for example:

Like many of his neighbors, Dominic A. Lebourgeois was in disbelief on Sunday at the level of violence that descended on his Sherman Park neighborhood the previous evening.

In other words, several hundred blacks burned automobiles and looted buildings, including a cell phone store. A beauty salon was stripped of its hair extensions and then torched.

(This wasn’t even the first riot in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood this summer. In late June riot police had to drive off 100 youths throwing rocks.)

The dead man, Sylville Smith, was not an upstanding citizen, as his social-media presence demonstrated. He had been arrested nine times since 2011. He had been charged with witness intimidation but had been released due to the witness being properly intimidated.

“One lesson to be learned from Wisconsin’s sorry history is that poor selection of newcomers can have negative ramifications for generations.”

But that didn’t matter to the rioters, who identified with Smith. To calm tensions, the dead man’s sister went before the cameras and called for peace in the black community in a memorable speech:

Burnin’ down shit ain’t going to help nothin’! Y’all burnin’ down shit we need in our community. Take that shit to the suburbs. Burn that shit down! We need our shit! We need our weaves. I don’t wear it. But we need it.

The respectable press edited the sister’s lament that “We need our weaves” down to “Don’t bring violence here.”

The mainstream media quickly followed up with many think pieces trying to explain exactly what nastiness the seemingly nice white people of Wisconsin had committed that forces Milwaukee blacks to behave so badly. (As we all know, blacks don’t have agency or free will, so it would be inappropriate to ask Wisconsin blacks to choose to behave less destructively.)

The New York Times rose to the challenge by explaining, “Racial Violence in Milwaukee Was Decades in the Making, Residents Say.” The article implied that the latest riot is due to the Milwaukee city council delaying passing a fair-housing law until only 48 years ago.

In reality, the current round of blacks behaving badly in Milwaukee over the past eighteen months is due to the Ferguson Effect that has also driven up murders in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in St. Louis, Baltimore, and Chicago (where, by the way, another 52 people were shot last weekend, nine fatally).

The number of homicides in Milwaukee jumped 69 percent in 2015 due to agitation in the aftermath of the police killing of a mentally retarded black man named Dontre Hamilton. The Obama administration announced last December that its Civil Rights Division would spend two years monitoring the Milwaukee police department for signs of bias. As usual in cities where the administration says it must intervene to protect black bodies from white police violence, local blacks responded to federal nagging of the cops by shooting each other in historic numbers.

But the Ferguson Effect only explains the short-term disaster in Wisconsin.

What about the long term? If you follow social-science statistics, you’ll eventually notice that there’s something not quite right with Wisconsin blacks.

For instance, that Wisconsin blacks usually score the lowest in the nation on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress tests of public school students. And the white-black gap on the NAEP is larger in Wisconsin than anywhere other than Washington, D.C.

Moreover, the black-white imprisonment ratio in Wisconsin is an extraordinarily high 11.5 to 1. That’s the second-highest of the 50 states, behind only New Jersey (12.2 to 1) and just ahead of Iowa (11.1), Minnesota (11.0), and Vermont (10.5).

In contrast, the most equal black-white incarceration ratio is in Hawaii (2.4), where most blacks are either in the military or are Barack Obama-like exotics, followed by Southern states such as Mississippi (3.0), Georgia (3.2), Alabama (3.3), and Kentucky (3.3).

And blacks in Wisconsin are 9.0 times more likely than the overall population to use welfare, the worst ratio in the country.

Normally, the press would blame the problems of Wisconsin blacks on racist Republican rednecks. Yet Wisconsin is a moderately liberal Northern state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan’s landslide in 1984.

Nor are the troubles of blacks in Wisconsin confined to Milwaukee. The degree of racial inequality in the liberal state capital of Madison is striking. In Madison’s Dane County, which Obama carried with 71 percent of the vote in 2012, “three-quarters of the county’s African-American children live in poverty, compared to 5 percent of white children.” Dane may have the biggest gap in quality of life between whites and blacks of any county in America. (In general, large black communities tend to do slightly better in conservative states like Georgia and Texas.)

Keep in mind that Wisconsin has been one of the most reform-friendly states over the past century. Wisconsin’s famous Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette Sr. was governor or senator from 1901 to 1925. In the 1924 presidential election he won 17 percent of the national vote on the Progressive third-party ticket.

Wisconsin’s heavily German population was long inclined toward Northern European-style social democracy. As rock star Alice Cooper informatively pointed out in the movie Wayne’s World, Milwaukee elected three mayors on the Socialist Party ticket.

Wisconsin is where European social democracy came closest to happening in America. But it’s also where the welfare state and African-Americans interacted most disastrously.

In his 1895 “Cast down your buckets where you are” speech, black leader Booker T. Washington famously called for American industrialists to hire black Americans rather than white immigrants.

For two decades, Northern factory owners paid little attention to Washington’s plea for patriotic solidarity. But World War I and the immigration restriction laws passed by Congress in 1921 and 1924 set off a golden age of black advancement as the most industrious Southern blacks traded in cotton picking in the South for a better life of assembly-line work in the North.

For a half century this worked rather well, until liberal overconfidence led to increased welfare in Northern states in the 1960s. This attracted less enterprising Southern blacks and encouraged Northern black families to revert back to African domestic patterns in which the women provide for the children and the men don’t work.

Initially, Wisconsin lagged behind Illinois in boosting Aid for Families with Dependent Children handouts. In 1970, Wisconsin paid only the national average of $184 per month per family of three, while Chicago lavished $232 on welfare mothers. But both were a lot more attractive than the $56 paid by the state of Mississippi.

During the 1970s, however, Chicago’s cynical Irish Democratic political leadership grew tired of attracting the laziest people in Mississippi and boosted AFDC payments to only $342 by 1985. In contrast, the more idealistic politicians of Wisconsin—during the McGovern era, the state was led by a formidable trio of liberal Democrats, Governor Patrick Lucey and Senators William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson—raised welfare to $533. This generosity with the taxpayers’ money sucked in the dregs of Mississippi.

Combined with the state’s industry being outsourced to China, this heritage has left even the more diligent Wisconsin blacks with little legal work to do.

So the white population of Milwaukee fell from 71 percent in 1980 to 37 percent in 2010.

Wisconsin’s disastrous 1970s experiment with naive liberalism hasn’t been repeated. Over the past three decades, Wisconsin has been a pioneer in Republican-led reform of welfare and public schools under talented politicians such as Tommy Thompson, Paul Ryan, and Scott Walker. But they haven’t been able to fully rectify 1970s mistakes.

One lesson to be learned from Wisconsin’s sorry history is that poor selection of newcomers can have negative ramifications for generations. We like to hope that migrants will assimilate to our higher standards, but it often turns out that they just drag us down to theirs.

Thus, in 2016, Milwaukee is still being looted and burned by the grandchildren of the welfare mothers attracted to the city by the liberal misconception of the 1970s. Wisconsin’s disillusioning history with migrants might well have implications for national immigration policy in 2016.

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