The vacant land around where the former Chrysler plant operated, where the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood will be developed. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
By summer, residents in the city of Kenosha will watch as new roads are paved leading to the highly anticipated the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood (KIN). The revitalization project aims to convert 107 acres of vacant land left behind by the now closed Chrysler Plant into a “mixed use, innovation center,” according to the KIN’S master plan document.
Plans also include 20 acres of public green space, housing at varied rents, medical facilities and 60,000 square feet of space for business startups in the Uptown neighborhood. New lofts, stores and a library are part of the plan. The development will also replace a grocery store and a restaurant that burned to the ground in 2020.
City officials are optimistic that the project will bring significant benefits to the local community by early next year. Mayor John Antamarian recently told the Kenosha News that the project will bring groceries into an area that has become a food desert and will improve reading scores by giving local children access to a public library. Perspectives on what the city needs, and how achieve it, however, differ within the community. Local activists worry that the project will displace low-income residents and disrupt minority communities. “Gentrification is a major concern,” says Kyle Flood, a local organizer who has worked with the Kenosha Education Justice Coalition, For Our Future Wisconsin and other groups.
“It’s not clear that there is any shared vision for what kind of jobs and housing the neighborhood needs,” Flood told Wisconsin Examiner. “I see the city wanting to grow all the wrong industries in all the wrong parts of town. I have been concerned about the potential for success of these developments for a long time.” Last year, the KIN received $15 million in stimulus funds from the state government.
Tanya McLean, executive director of Leaders of Kenosha (LOK), says the city needs to take a closer look at the needs of residents instead of emphasizing business interests. “The mayor has a desire to draw all of these high tech jobs to this community and a tech high school, yet we have two elementary schools where most of the children in third grade cannot read or write,” she says. “How will our children in these communities benefit from all of this technology-driven education and employment when basic skills are severely lacking? How will our children compete?”
Kyle Johnson, a member of Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) in Kenosha, fears that rather than tackle the issues important to community residents, officials are supporting developers and presenting a false image of Kenosha. “Gentrification is in full swing, with folks at risk of being pushed out of a community they have roots in,” he says. “I am one of those people. Living right off 63rd Street and 23rd Avenue I have no idea what kind of impact KIN and these additional developments will have on my rent.”
City officials counter that there is no push to replace existing housing, and that new businesses in the area will serve current residents. Kenosha City Administrator John Morrissey told Wisconsin Examiner, “I believe gentrification is displacing current inhabitants; there is no one living on this property. I believe the development will create a neighborhood that all residents of Kenosha can enjoy.”
By establishing the KIN, the city aims to replace an economic base lost when the Chrysler plant closed. Like a beating heart, the plant sat at the center of the Uptown neighborhood of Kenosha. In 1988, the automaker ended auto assembly, eliminating 5,000 jobs in a residential area just blocks from downtown. About 1,000 workers remained for the next 22 years building engines, until that operation, too, was shuttered in 2010. The plant was demolished two years later.
The lost shots fired report
In 2016, a group of residents attempted to confront the deteriorating socio-economic conditions that followed the plant’s closure. The Kenosha Unity Coalition (KUC) sought to bridge divides and promote equity for all residents. Its goals were to approach gun violence as a public health crisis, reduce recidivism, increase opportunities for formerly incarcerated people, and establish a non-profit network to make sure it all came together.
To better understand local gun violence, the coalition also proposed creating a “shots fired report” tracking incidents of gun violence.
Years later, some residents still wonder what became of those efforts. Flood recalls that he was first approached by Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley about joining the KUC. “I was a candidate for the 3rd Aldermanic District and wrapping up my time on the [Kenosha Unified School District] school board,” Flood told Wisconsin Examiner. “I attended a community forum where Mike approached me about joining after having shared discussions about different aspects of criminal justice reforms.”
But no report was ever released, and the coalition has been inactive in recent years. “The KUC stopped meeting when the pandemic began and never reconvened,” Flood says.
Flood was aware of the shots fired report, though he didn’t directly work on it. “I was not involved in the work of putting the report together, however, I recall that the report was supposedly completed sometime in 2019 and was going to be presented at a public meeting.”
Any plans for a meeting were upended by the pandemic and the report was never released. Later, when city officials began to enthusiastically push residential and commercial development projects in the area it covered, Flood and others wondered if the report was ever completed and whether it would have caused embarrassment or damaged the prospects for development if it became public.
“As time went on,” says Flood, “I heard rumors that the city heard about the report and did not want it to be released ahead of several votes that were taken on infrastructure plans in Downtown, Uptown, and the proposed Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood.”
Recreating the shots fired report
It’s not clear what happened to the shots fired report. Some of the Examiner’s open records requests regarding the report have gone unanswered by city officials. Requests were sent both to Mayor John Antaramian and City Administrator Morrissey in September 2022.
In late March 2023, Morrissey told Wisconsin Examiner in an email message: “I do not recall receiving a request from Sept. 29, 2022. If I missed it, I apologize for not responding.” The Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office did respond to records requests about the shots fired report last year.
Graveley, the Kenosha County DA, recalled the unity coalition’s efforts, but said that no report was ever completed. “This process was unfortunately interrupted by COVID and then the events of August 2020,” Graveley told Wisconsin Examiner in an email, referring to protests of a police shooting that engulfed the city and the shootings of protesters by self-styled teen militia member Kyle Rittenhouse. “To my knowledge, no completed analysis exists and none has ever been shared with the Kenosha DA’s office.”
Graveley did provide a spreadsheet containing raw data on shots fired incidents in Kenosha County. “Because this project was stopped in the middle, the data may still contain errors and it provides no context or analysis,” he added.
Morrissey appeared entirely unaware of the report, and of the DA’s data. “I am not aware of any report, nor have I seen the data you reference from the DA,” Morrissey told Wisconsin Examiner.
The spreadsheet covers incidents from 2017-2019 and contains two main layers. One focuses on suspects and witnesses, while the other centers on location information. Data is meticulously categorized, including dates and times, addresses, whether it was an indoor or outdoor shooting, if suspects fled, how they transported themselves, car and firearm information, whether shell casings were recovered, whether people involved had criminal records, prior juvenile records, whether involved persons were drug dealers or drug users, and more. In both the spreadsheet page focused on victims and suspects, and the one dealing with shooting locations, categories for gang affiliations are also included.
Using the location-focused data, the Wisconsin Examiner has created an interactive map of shots fired incidents. The map is color-coded according to the year, with each icon containing information about the incident. Green icons on the map indicate proposed or completed commercial and residential development projects, including the KIN. Each of the map’s layers may be turned on or off by selecting the square icon on the top left side of the display.
Several things stand out about the data incorporated into the map.
The area where the KIN will be built sits at the center of where many of Kenosha’s shots fired incidents are concentrated. Those incidents were especially prevalent to the east and south of the vacant land where the Chrysler plant once operated, but also in neighborhoods to the north and west. Some of the densest clusters were to the east, between the area around the KIN and Civic Park. Shots fired incidents involved a variety of calibers and types of firearms.
In 2020, the area around Civic Park became the epicenter of protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and then the shooting of Jacob Blake in August. Running alongside the park is Sheridan Road, not far from where two protesters were killed by then-17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse. The teen was later acquitted in a murder trial. The protests and unrest also brought in federal funding for public safety to southeastern Wisconsin.
Mayor Antaramian said in a recent Journal Times report that the Uptown neighborhood is recovering after the unrest almost three years ago. “Uptown is moving along nicely,” said Antaramian. “If you look at any of the other communities that had the civil unrest that we had and where there were areas that were destroyed, nobody is moving anywhere as fast as we are to my knowledge. … I think Uptown is an exciting place.” He added that, “you are seeing the community continue to grow.”
Gun violence, however, is a challenge for Kenosha as it is for many other cities nationwide. In some of the city’s gunfire incidents, just a single shot was fired. Others saw upward of 19 shots fired. Some cases in the data involved small caliber handguns, while assault rifles were used in others. Specific apartment complexes appeared to be the sites of multiple incidents. At one apartment complex (1600 61st Street) there were four separate outdoor shootings from June 5-13, 2019, the shots fired data shows. Three of those shootings, all outside the building, occurred on the same day, according to the data. At another property (1600 62nd Street), there were three shootings two months apart. Two of the incidents happened 14 days apart; one involved an AK-47 rifle.
The DA’s data also noted whether shootings occurred in a “gang-related neighborhood.” Where possible, specific gangs were also associated with events in the data.
Graveley declined to comment on the label, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate since the shots fired study was never completed.
Morrissey told Wisconsin Examiner: “I am not aware of the information presented to you by the DA, so no, I am not aware of the categorization of any neighborhood.”
When approached about the descriptions of neighborhoods, the Kenosha Police Department’s (KPD) public information officer, Lt. Joseph Nosalik, was also unaware of the gang-related neighborhood label. “This is not something that we officially, or unofficially, designate at all,” Nosalik told Wisconsin Examiner. Nosalik said of the district attorney’s spreadsheet, “This is their document. It has nothing to do with the police department.”
KPD responds to shots fired calls in the city and operates a gang unit. Nosalik explained that gangs have changed over time.
“For a police department to designate an entire neighborhood as a gang neighborhood because of maybe some intelligence that we have, maybe two or three gang members that live in a neighborhood, that would be an issue,” said Nosalik. “That is just a ludicrous idea for a police department to do that.”
Such generalizations are inappropriate, he suggested. “Why should a neighborhood be held accountable? … They have no control over who lives in that neighborhood.”
Nosalik said he couldn’t speak to why the district attorney’s office would use such a designation. “Looking at it, clearly they’re tracking a lot of information,” said Nosalik. “But what they’re using it for is beyond me. It’s their document, and I couldn’t tell you exactly why they have it.”
When an increase in robberies leads the department to deploy more squad cars in a certain neighborhood, that area doesn’t become a “robbery neighborhood,” the lieutenant explained. “There’s no reason to designate a neighborhood as a gang neighborhood,” he said. “Not from a police department standpoint. Not from a law enforcement standpoint. It just doesn’t happen.”
Nosalik said that generally, a gang is regarded as a group of three or more people, often with similar ideologies or clothing, formed specifically to commit crimes. Gang investigations can be complicated by an ever-shifting ecosystem of allegiance and petty disputes among rivals.
“The old Chicago-based street gang mentality, it’s kind of gone,” said Nosalik. “That stuff doesn’t really exist anymore.”
Many gangs aren’t organized as they once were. “In Kenosha, we do have affiliates of, like, the Gangster Disciples, or the Vice Lords, or Latin Kings, or Four Corner Hustler,” Nosalik said. “But they’re so hybrid now. There’s no real allegiance to the old style, or the original gangsters if you will, to their honors and to their codes, and being with one gang. The lines are so blurred right now, and I’m not just talking about geographical lines on a map. I’m talking about how these kids flip flop from one gang to another.”
Flood called the gang-related neighborhood designation in the original shots fired spreadsheet “very interesting and a bit disturbing.”
Leaders of Kenosha’s McLean, is also disturbed by the designation. “I live in this community and I did not know it had been designated as a ‘gang neighborhood,’” McLean told Wisconsin Examiner. “I feel these neighborhoods are being labeled as such based on race, ethnicity, and socio-economics. These are the neighborhoods where the biggest police presence is, and yet this is where the majority of all the gun violence is happening. I am disturbed by the fact that the city knows exactly where the problem areas are, and yet there are seemingly no resources being poured into this community to address the real issues at hand.”
Homicides have declined in recent years in the city of Kenosha. In 2021 there were 14 homicides. In one of those cases a pregnant woman died. (KPD’s data counts her unborn baby among the homicide victims, while FBI reporting standards don’t.) The following year, 2022, there were seven homicides. While there have been no homicides so far as of April 5th of this year, KPD’s data shows that there have been 15 shots fired incidents.
Nosalik pointed out that shots fired calls sometimes turn out to have other causes. “Also, sometimes people will report shots fired just to get police there quicker,” he noted. “It doesn’t happen often, but it does.”
Business development favored over community support?
Sheridan Road divides Kenosha’s Uptown neighborhood from its downtown area. The shots fired data shows that incidents clustered west of Sheridan Road, north of 63rd Street, and south of 52nd Street — an area that includes the KIN district. Neighborhoods north, and northwest of where the KIN will be built also saw clusters of shots fired incidents.
For community activists, the prevalence of shots fired incidents around the KIN raises the question they’ve been asking all along. Was the shots fired study inconvenient for the city’s plan to attract commercial interest? And could it have been used to address more pressing needs?
“The release of this data will absolutely affect the investment and development of the proposed ‘Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood’ and the broader community,” Johnson told Wisconsin Examiner. “The established business class and numerous elected officials including the mayor have a vested interest in pushing the KIN agenda. With the data showing things aren’t as rosy as they seem, some businesses may be hesitant to have a presence or invest.”
The KIN wasn’t the only project near some of the areas where shootings occurred more frequently. As indicated by the green icons on the Examiner’s map, 13 development projects have been considered to the east and west of Sheridan Road since 2020. The same locations are documented in this map of commercial and residential developments in Kenosha. Some of the projects went through, while others were withdrawn. More were located right in the center of one of the densest clusters, just east of the KIN.
“Releasing the report will definitely have an adverse effect on attracting new businesses and housing developments to this area,” said McLean. “Clearly the issues of homelessness, mental health and addiction, affordable housing, slum landlords, food deserts, drugs and violence are going unanswered by our city officials.”
Instead of putting the shots fired data aside, community advocates say city officials could use it to address neighborhood needs that they believe should get priority over development.
“Before creating projects that externally beautify a community, the community’s social condition needs to be addressed and solid plans need to be in place and resources implemented to treat these conditions,” said McLean.
Flood noted that many of the planned developments are right in the center of where shootings occur at higher rates. “Years back, shortly after the mayor was elected, he and I had a conversation where I expressed my concerns that the old Chrysler land would have difficulty finding occupants if some of the social problems in the surrounding neighborhood were not addressed,” said Flood. “He disagreed and told me that he thought that developing the land was key to improving social conditions in the neighborhood. This is a dangerous ignorance in city government.”
Antaramian declined through a spokesperson to comment for this story.
Morrissey told Wisconsin Examiner that developing the KIN could have a positive impact on the community. “I think economic development and residential growth done in a responsible manner creates a stable environment,” said Morrissey, who’s also a former police chief. “I can’t say it will reduce gun violence, no more than I can say without it that it will increase.” When asked if city officials were ever concerned that the shots fired report would have affected business interests Morrissey said, “I have no issue with factual information being presented.”
McLean wonders what the community will look like five years from now. “I agree that our community needs to be developed but in a realistic and practical way that makes sense for the affected neighborhoods,” she says. “The lives of many Black and brown people will be affected for many generations to come.”
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