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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, August 03, 2007

Punishing Milwaukee's Non-White Population

by folkbum

A couple of months ago my column in the Bay View Compass (which is not currently publishing on-line) was about school safety. Here's a chunk of it:
Media attention and intensifying incidents have provided an opportunity for Milwaukee to discuss issues that are not necessarily easy to discuss--an opportunity we have wasted.

Take the furor over putting police officers into middle and high schools, a move I support. We saw intense opposition here to an idea that, just a couple of districts over, doesn’t raise even an eyebrow.

And no wonder: Many Milwaukeeans don’t trust the police, justified or not. And if you are upset about what the police did to your neighbor, your cousin, your father--would you want them stationed daily by your child? We must fix the relationship between families and the police so we don’t abandon a useful tool. That conversation is missing.
I have a word limit on those pieces, or else I would have delved deeper into that relationship between the police and the community. It is not a big secret that the community, the African American community in particular, has good reason to dislike and distrust the police. This summer, I asked my students to read, as I often do with my classes, this essay by Alton Fitzgerald White. It's the tale of his being arrested for simply being in the foyer of his building in Harlem. As usual, it prompted discussion among the students and almost to a one, they had a story about police behavior that floored me. And they laughed about it--because it was such a common shared experience.

And now this:
For years, rumors of a rogue group of Milwaukee police officers known for brutalizing suspects have been circulating around the city. The group reportedly called itself the Punishers, a name that came from "The Punisher," a vigilante comic book, video game and film character, and many of its members were supposedly on hand at the Bay View party where Frank Jude Jr. was attacked in 2004.

It turns out that the group's existence may be more than a rumor, according to evidence presented Thursday during the sentencing hearing of fired officer Jon Bartlett on federal gun charges. [. . .]

[T]he information about the Punishers and a copy of "The Turner Diaries" - a white supremacist manifesto that inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh - found during a search at Bartlett's apartment in August 2006, led authorities to believe he was trying to buy guns for something other than target practice, [Assistant US Attorney Rick] Frohling said. [. . .] During questioning, Bartlett tried to distance himself from the Punishers by saying his tattoo was the Harley-Davidson skull. The Harley skull, however, generally has no teeth or very short teeth, Frohling said. Bartlett also said he bought "The Turner Diaries" out of curiosity after the Oklahoma City bombing. However, federal officials tracked the price tag on the book and found out it was purchased sometime in 2005 or later--some 10 years after the bombing.
I don't know how or if the "Punishers" are related to long-rumored "jump-out squad," but one would hope that there is not more than one group of rogue cops terrorizing the minority population of Milwaukee.

The story (and possibly the U.S. attorney) does not make as big a deal of the racist literature as I would. Here we have a group of police responsible for maintaining order in a majority-minority city. How well are they going to be able to do that? How deeply has this group--and groups like it, if more exist--divided this city?

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