Milwaukee’s high homicide rates rooted in segregation

By: - July 16, 2019 8:45 am

A recent report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel draws an explicit link between the city’s homicide rates and its historic segregation.

It’s part of a larger pattern that criminologists have been aware of for years, a leading Wisconsin criminologist tells the Wisconsin Examiner — and one that demands a deeper conversation over social structure that policymakers have largely avoided.

“Areas with high rates of homicide and other violent crime also have higher than average rates of poverty, unemployment and low homeownership,” the newspaper reported in a story published as part of a project produced in connection with the Marquette University O’Brien Public Service Fellowship. “Behind all of this is how those places got to their current condition. In Milwaukee, as in similar cities, researchers say segregation is at the root of the disparity in homicides.”

Stan Stojkovic

The relationship between heavy policing, violent crime and “the colonization of the inner city” is well known to researchers, Stan Stojkovich, dean of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee told the Wisconsin Examiner this week. “This is true across the country.”

Urban, inner city families who are “stuck in poverty,” locked out of jobs, lack access to adequate health care and are condemned to inadequate housing are also subject to “social derision” and disproportionate attention to often hostile police attention, Stojkovich said. “We’ve known this since the 1930s. The larger structural questions remain unrepresented” in attempts to change those conditions in order to cut crime.

Some working in the area are making efforts but remain largely at the margins, he said. And isolated agencies can’t tackle the issues alone. “We say police can solve this problem — they can’t solve this problem,” Stojkovich said. “These go way beyond any social service agency or any human service agency like the police.”

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.