Milwaukee Riots Round-up of “Systemic Causes”

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

As readers will have seen, there have been two nights of rioting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the city’s Sherman[1] Park neighborhood, following the death of Sylville Smith, shot by the police after a traffic stop[2]. I’m not going to look at the details of the riots, although last night was calm; rather, I’m going to take a brief look at some of the systemic reasons why Milwaukee is a painful place for black people to live. As we’ll discover — Naked Capitalism being concerned with finance, economics, politics and power — some of those reasons are in our wheelhouse. First, though, we’ve been here before (via):


(Entertainingly, the police are blaming outside agitators, and the press are building the case that the dead man deserved to be shot. The governer declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. One might almost think there was a script.) And if I were black and lived in Milwaukee, I think I might be forgiven for thinking nothing has changed since the 60s. At least not for the better. AP writes of Milwaukee:

In the country’s long history of racial strife, a few cities have become flashpoints: Los Angeles. Chicago. Ferguson, Missouri. Baltimore.

But by many measures, there is no tougher place to be black in America than Milwaukee, where in recent days the shooting death of a black man by a black police officer has led to violent protests, riots that destroyed businesses and gunfire.

The city of 600,000 along Lake Michigan is also the country’s most segregated metropolitan area, surpassing larger, deeply divided Midwestern cities such as Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, a 2012 Manhattan Institute analysis of census data found.

The overwhelming majority of the black residents who make up 40 percent of Milwaukee’s population are concentrated on its north side — where the rioting and Saturday’s shooting occurred — and away from the breweries and festivals that draw tourists to the waterfront.

People living on the north side are far more likely to live in poverty, to be incarcerated or to be out of work than those in the city overall or the metro area, according to a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee report. Wisconsin also has the highest rate of black unemployment of any state, and it leads the country in the number of black men behind bars, with 1 out of 8 in prison or jail as of the 2010 census, another study found.

It is a reality that most people don’t see or hear about, in part because Milwaukee’s size often excludes it from nationwide rankings or news accounts of big-city problems. Some community leaders also have preferred not to publicize the issues, said state Sen. Lena Taylor, who still lives on the same north side block where she grew up.

As the Journal-Sentinel writes:

[T]wo questions were repeated over and over.

The first question: Why did this happen?

And the second: Why didn’t it happen sooner?

With that background, I want to look at three systemic causes of violence (and economic violence) in Milwaukee (and Ferguson. And Baltimore. And Chicago…):

  1. Disinvestment
  2. Segregated Housing
  3. Law Enforcement for Profit

I’ll caveat that this post is most definitely not an “explainer.” For one thing, I left racism off the list above. Mostly, that’s because I haven’t figured out how to write about racism and economics (that is, class) together (and obviously I’m not the only one, though you can’t go wrong starting with Adolph Reed)[3]. Partly, that’s because, at least on the Twitter, the topic tends to elicit commentary of the form “Why don’t they do like I did and _______?” or “I don’t see _____ but ____,” and I just don’t think commentary like that is very constructive, absent a showing that life’s great lottery gives everybody the same chances the tweeter had, or why everybody doesn’t see what the tweeter doesn’t see.


We all know that private equity played a central role in gutting America’s industrial heartland, and disinvestment happened in Milwaukee like everywhere else, and is still happening. From the Wall Street Journal:

As manufacturing jobs emptied out over the past two decades, [resident resident Michael Young] watched the neighborhood hollow out. An area that once had a measure of racial and socioeconomic diversity has grown poorer and largely African-American. Many of his neighbors are unemployed, he said.

“Those who can leave have left,” said Mr. Young, who works as an Uber driver. “I don’t blame them—I’d leave too if I could.”

Residents say the neighborhood was dealt a blow by the 2006 closing of the former Tower Automotive factory that once employed thousands of workers. “The loss of the manufacturing base here has taken a big toll,” said Fred Curzan, executive director of the Sherman Park Community Association.

Tower Automative? Cerberus.

About 40% of black men 25 to 44 aren’t working, either because they are unemployed, out of the labor force, on disability or jailed, he said. Milwaukee has one of the highest black household poverty rates among large metro areas, he said.

“People in Milwaukee have argued conditions have been a tinderbox or powder keg for a long time,” he said. “The conditions of inequality and disparity have existed for a very long time and have been intensifying for 30 or 35 years.”

Edward Staples, owner of a home-repair business close to the epicenter of the demonstrations, said the recent closings of a Wal-Mart and a Lowe’s home-improvement store were like nails in the coffin.

(The Wall Street Journal also has a discussion of gentrification, important, but not one of my bullet points.) It’s not like people aren’t trying to claw their way out of the coffin. The Journal-Sentinel:

Many of the routes to success in the city have been cut off through the loss of manufacturing jobs that paid a family-supporting wage and didn’t require a high level of skill, said Julie Kerksick, senior policy advocate at the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, in Milwaukee.

[One] effort [to rectify this], called the Joseph Project, has humble roots. Across the street stand five boarded-up storefronts and an abandoned gas station surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire.

But the project, launched last fall on a shoestring budget dependent on donations, has 78 people currently placed in jobs that its director says pay $12.80 to $18.50 an hour.

On Monday, a handful of new job seekers sat in the windowless sanctuary of the church — the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ at 5422 W. Center St. — and listened to the testimony of three of the program’s veterans.

“When I started out, I was like a lot of people in our community — kind of hopeless,” said one of them, Willie McShan, a former temp worker now holding a permanent job with a base pay of $16 an hour and plenty of overtime. “…I don’t feel hopeless no more, because I know all I’ve got to do is get up, go to work, stay committed, and things are going to work out.”

McShan’s attitude stands in stark contrast to the pockets of despair and anger, often born of high unemployment, that erupted into frightening rioting Saturday night after a police officer shot and killed a young man who police said refused to drop the stolen gun he was carrying.

Of course, 78 people isn’t much. (This isn’t a policy post, but from a systems perspective Jobs Guarantee could make the Joseph Project more than a band-aid.)

Segregated Housing

Milwaukee, like Baltimore and St Louis, is extremely segregated. Here are some handy maps:

And one might almost think that rioting was the only way to draw attention to the problem:

Milwaukee is among the most segregated metropolitan areas in the nation. As in many other cities, racially discriminatory housing policies persisted for decades. Milwaukee’s biased policies were not overturned until numerous nonviolent protests culminated in a riot in 1967.

And from Reuters:

For Randy Jones, a community activist in the Milwaukee district of Sherman Park, the rioting that took place in his neighborhood over the weekend was inevitable.

By some measures, Milwaukee is the most segregated city in America. The Brookings Institution think tank last December ranked the segregation of cities on a scale of zero to 100 using U.S. Census Bureau data. Milwaukee came in first with a score of 81.

Interstate highways create borders between impoverished neighborhoods and more affluent areas. Black Milwaukee districts are interspersed with vacant lots and abandoned, blighted houses. The typical hangout for young black men is outside small corner grocery stores where they socialize and become themselves targets of violent crimes.

Sherman Park, where the rioting took place, was once the home of Milwaukee’s black middle class but today more than 30 percent of its people live in poverty, Levine said.

An internal report charting data from 2005 to 2014 showed police responded to life-threatening situations within 8.4 minutes in District 2 on the predominantly white south side but took 15 minutes to respond in District 7 on the largely black north side.

Reggie Jackson, chairman of America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, said young blacks “feel like they are stuck in this bubble” without any escape, and that misguided investment has failed to provide needed jobs.

He cited the construction of a new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks that has been partly funded with $250 million of taxpayer money.

“That money could have been used in these poor parts of Milwaukee to improve the conditions of the neighborhood,” Jackson said. “People feel that it is a slap in the face.”

They feel like that because that’s what it was. I won’t give a potted history of post-World War housing patterns (which would also include suburbanization, the dominance of the automobile, ugly legal regimens like neighborhood convenants, and redlining. Instead, I’ll look at just one cog in the great machine: Blockbusting. See generally this tweetstorm by Clint Smith, and blockbusting as one of the tactics that produced the segregated maps above:

Generally, “blockbusting” denotes the real estate and building development business practices yielding double profits from U.S. anti-black racism. Real estate companies approached white home owners to aggravate their fear of mixed-race communities, to encourage them to quickly sell their houses at a loss, at below-market prices. The companies then sold that property to black Americans at higher-than-market prices. Given then-standard banking criteria for mortgage-lending, black people usually did not qualify for mortgages from banks and savings and loan associations. Instead, they resorted to land installment contracts at above market interest rates to buy a house; a discriminatory economic strategy eventually leading to foreclosure. With blockbusting, real estate companies legally profited from the arbitrage (the difference between the discounted price paid to frightened white sellers and the artificially high price paid by black buyers), secondly from the commissions resulting from increased real estate sales, and thirdly from their higher than market financing of said house sales to black Americans.

Sounds an awful lot like sub-prime, doesn’t it? With the same effect of irradiating the neighborhoods, as soon as redlining, which meant no capital inflow, was applied to the “busted” blocks.

Law Enforcement for Profit

We saw a pattern of law enforcement for profit in Ferguson. The same pattern exists in Milwaukee (and at this point we remember that Smith was shot during a traffic stop). It looks to me like in some ways, the Milwaukee police have tried to do the right thing here, but the system of law enforcement for protit continues. From Urban Milwaukee:

[T]he Milwaukee Municipal Court, which has created a kind of debtor’s prison that has imprisoned the mostly poor and minority offenders who owe various fines. But the court, you see, is a money maker for the city. So how will the Common Council and the mayor handle this ugly situation?

The story begins with the police, because many of those fines are owed for tickets issued by them. Yet the interesting thing is that the police are actually writing far fewer tickets than just five years ago. That’s quite a surprise, because the police have actually greatly increased the number of traffic stops they make.

“We knew if we weren’t careful,” [Police Chief Ed] Flynn once told me, “that we would be imposing a poor people tax because a high-crime neighborhood is a poor neighborhood.” So officers were urged early on in the process to avoid criminalizing minor offenses. “The preferred outcome of a traffic stop is a warning,” Flynn noted. “80 percent of our stops are warnings.”

As a result of that approach, something remarkable has happened. Despite the huge increase in people stopped by the police, tickets issued dropped from just under 110,000 in 2008 to 48,359 in 2014. The result, however, had an unexpected effect on the Milwaukee’s Municipal Court: less tickets has meant less business for the court, as the number of cases dropped from around 158,000 to 79,000 during this period.

A recent study by the UW-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute (ETI), and released by the Justice Initiatives Institute, provided a damning picture of a court that seems to have created a debtor’s prison. The study found the court has imprisoned thousands of individuals, 78 percent of them African American, for a failure to pay municipal fines. Worse, the study found the court actually loses millions of dollars for taxpayers, because the cost of the imprisonment in county jail far outstrips the money gained from all the fines paid. I reported on the study back in April.

On Sunday the JS did another story, which focused on another question raised by ETI’s research: why have driver’s license suspensions “become one of Milwaukee’s most widely used debt collection mechanisms for unpaid traffic fines, with municipal court issuing almost 48,000 suspensions for that reason in 2014 alone,” as the story put it. The result is that many city residents, who are predominantly African American, lose their driver’s license and the ability to get to any jobs located in suburban or exurban locations not served by the Milwaukee County bus system.

The huge importance of a driver’s license for job seekers was demonstrated by an earlier ETI study which found that women who had not graduated from high school but had a valid driver’s license were more likely to be employed than women who had graduated from high school but did not have a license.

But looming over all this is the issue of revenue. While it costs more to jail people than the fines that are collected from them, that includes the cost of imprisonment for the Milwaukee County Jail. But for the city, which isn’t charged by the county jail, the municipal court has typically been a net revenue generator, gaining the city $2.9 million in 2010, a figure which dropped to $2.1 million in 2013, the most recent data from the city’s Legislative Reference Bureau shows. That may have declined further as tickets issued by police have continued to decline, and certainly suggests reason to cut the court’s staff. But as to the issue of judges requiring community service for those who can’t pay fees, will the Common Council worry this might lower revenue generated by the court?

Ka-ching. So, everything works together, doesn’t it? Segregated zip codes are targeted for revenue extraction, which makes it impossible for those targeted to find work…


Jesse Jackson — and if the goddamed Democrats had nominated him instead of bloodless technocrat Michael Dukakis, history might have been very different — has this to say about Milwaukee:

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King launched the modern civil rights movement in Birmingham, Ala., saying, “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”

Well, the injustice is worse in modern Milwaukee than it was in segregated Birmingham. Black poverty, unemployment and impoverished neighborhoods are all worse. The percentage of blacks attending hyper-segregated schools in today’s Milwaukee is far worse than the Jim Crow schools of Birmingham (71 percent to 56 percent).

This is … a powder keg. Police are tasked with “keeping order.” That is like trying to stop a seething volcano from exploding by suppressing the gases coming out the top. Even doing that skillfully won’t work.

Milwaukee is not the worst. Black income has plummeted more in Cleveland and Detroit. School segregation is worse in New York and Chicago. Violence stalks the mean streets of impoverished urban neighborhoods across the country.

And this obscene injustice gets worse with no action and little notice. The poor, the New York Times reports, are barely mentioned by either presidential candidate. And they are largely ignored by the media. On Saturday and Sunday, riots occurred in Milwaukee, a major American city. That didn’t make front page of the Monday New York Times, which led with stories above the fold about a Trump adviser, liberal worries about Hillary Clinton and malaria in Venezuela.

So, I guess the Democrats think of black voters as a firewall, and that’s about it. Good to know. I do think there’s a common factor in all three of these systemic issues, and perhaps at the personal level it connects race and class. That factor is greed, of which SlayTheSmaugs wrote eloquently here:

Greed is evil, but it comes in different intensities. Petit greed is a corrosive illness that decays societies, but can be effectively ameliorated through norms and social capital. Smaug greed is so toxic, so potent, that the state is the only entity powerful enough to put it in check. Greed, particularly Smaug greed, must be put in check because the false scarcity it manufactures, and the unsafe workplaces it creates, maim and kill people. The stealth violence of Smaug greed justifies a tax to confiscate the hoards.

The destruction of America’s — and Milwaukee’s industrial base — was motivated by greed. The realtors who ran blockbusting scams were motivated by greed. And the people who turn law enforcement into profit-making opportunities are motivated by greed. All three of our systemic factors, then, have greed at the heart, if the heart is the organ I want.

Many discussions of race and class founder on the question of “Which came first?” Can’t greed and racism be simultaneous? I imagine a slave trader working on his ledger, and counting up the profits from his purchase and sale of “human resources.” “Why did these people deserve to be sold?” he asks himself. Hmm…


[1] I’m not sure if Sherman Park was named after General William T. Sherman, as inventive in peace as in war.

[2] “Then you pull the trigger.”

[3] One thing that really does give me hope is that there’s been a lot of terrific new scholarship coming out on the history of these two intertwining topics; see here and here. I hope to get a chance to read, and perhaps review, new work in this area.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. hunkerdown

      Yes, we know about IDF and we don’t need to go to your blog to read about it.

      No “curiosity gap” here, please.

      1. FrankZappasGuitar

        I’m glad Sally posted it. “The End Has No End” Julian Casablancas once sang. Cheers Sally.

  1. Ivy

    A helpful background book is E. Michael Jones’ The Slaughter of Cities. Jones looks in depth at local and national social engineering and housing policies that impacted older industrial cities.

    ISBN-13: 9781587317705
    Publisher: St. Augustine’s Press

    Summary Reviews

    1. Ché Pasa

      Policies. Policies. Policies. And those who come up with and implement those policies know what the results of those policies will be.

      They’ve been to the best schools, they’ve been educated by the best minds in the field, and there are generations of experience to guide them in decision making.

      They know that racial segregation, economic exploitation, limited or no opportunity to escape that exploitation, social, legal and political oppression, and particularly the arbitrary imposition of authority and on occasion, arbitrary and unpredictable lethal force, will inevitably lead to protest and now and then reaction.

      However to call what’s happened in Milwaukee “riots” is a bit of a stretch. There have been nonviolent protests against police murder and abuse and there have been acts of vandalism and arson. There are claims that “objects” have been thrown at police. These actions do not constitute “riots” by any objective standard. The fact that the protesters, vandals and arsonists are largely black is what gives rise to the description of what’s happened as “riots.”

      But regardless of terminology, policy makers know what will happen when these policies are imposed. Apparently they don’t care, or they actually want the resentment and uprisings that result so they can test their suppressive tactics and equipment.

      It’s monstrous, but it’s routine.

      1. Fred

        Milwaukee has had Democrats or Socialists as Mayors since 1916. Maybe they should elect some other people due to all the illegal conduct of police and government employees in the past 100 years.

        1. Ché Pasa

          Maybe so, but find Milwaukee politicians of any party that won’t formulate and carry out oppressive, exploitative, and arbitrarily violent policies toward designated communities, typically of color.

          I bet you can’t.

          It’s a much deeper problem than political party.

        1. Ché Pasa

          Reports by police of gunshots during protests or vandalism/arson are not necessarily true. They should be regarded skeptically.

          People in the streets protesting police violence and murder while others commit acts of vandalism and and arson is not a riot. Far from it. Tulsa 1921 was a riot. Rosewood 1923 was a riot. San Francisco 2014 (World Series win dontchaknow) was a riot. And so on.

          But whether you call it a “riot” or protest occurring at almost the same time as vandalism and arson, which is what it was, the terminology doesn’t really matter in this instance. What matters is that what’s happened is the all but inevitable result of policy decisions all down the line. And those who formulate and implement these policies know what the results will be.

          Much as I find Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to be a largely useless political tool, he actually has a pretty good idea of how policy decisions create the climate and necessity for resistance such as we’ve seen. It’s no accident or act of God. Police action such as killing black men serves as the trigger (so to speak.) for protest, vandalism and arson. But generations of policy decisions are behind it.

          He of course blames Democrats alone because he is a political tool, but policies that lead to this sort of resistance are the joint responsibility of both major parties and their owners.

      2. M.M.

        Please look up the definition of “riot” and you will see there is no stretch in calling what happened in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee on the nights of 8/13/16 and 8/14/16 riots. I don’t know what your “objective” definition of “riot” is, but maybe you should consult a dictionary or two.
        On Saturday, it may have started out as a protest, but when people chose to get right up in the faces of police officers lined up calmly, not taking any action against the “protest,” and taunted and dared these officers to make a move, that is the beginning of a riot. In response, the officers “pulled back” numerous times, without reaction, to give the “protesters” more space. After several hours of this, It was not the officers who started throwing things, lighting fires, or causing property damage.

  2. Eclair

    Thanks for this post, Lambert. Yesterday, I saw a screen-shot from CNN news, where the banner across the bottom of the screen read: ‘Violence erupts in Milwaukee ..’

    Incorrect use of the present tense; violence erupted, was erupting, has been erupting for hundreds of years … in Milwaukee and throughout the US. The slave ships, the human auctions, the tearing apart of families, the beatings, the Jim Crow laws, the red-lining and the ‘block-busting,’ the ripping away of manufacturing jobs, the unjust drug laws, the mass incarcerations … all are instances of systemic violence against Black (and poor) people.

    The depressing fact: when the inevitable blowback happens and a city or neighborhood explodes in a surge of long-suppressed rage, TPTB use it as an excuse for further police militarization and suppression.

  3. Ranger Rick

    The outside agitator angle is not completely unfounded. Rumors abound about the existence of professional activists and “mobs for hire.” There was a lot of right wing sound and fury over the behavior of groups like Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment operating in Ferguson.

  4. Optimader

    Yes much of that, gratuitous Jessie Jackson bromide? Really? Smith’s father offers more insight from his own local perspective imo. I would like to hear his opinion of JJ.

    So here is a situation w/ a guy pointing a (stolen) gun with a 23 round clip at someone, in this case a (black) cop. What would you do?
    In the end, it’s a rhetorical question because one can’t honestly say until put in the situation —looking at the wrong end of a gun, but I think I know what I would do.

      1. optimader

        Sure did, I consider 2 as more than a footnote to the story though.
        And I feel sympathy for the cop that shot him, being in a situation to have to make that choice with an individual that has a record of arrests for violent and weapons related charges that were dismissed

          1. optimader

            No, just the “control volume” of what is captured by the term systemic IMO includes the historical violent/weapons related behavior of Mr Smith, the legal systems apparent failure to address it, and the consequent events of him being on the street w/a stolen handgun pointed at a cop.

            From a systemic perspective, I think that is all part of the story. Stated another way, I don’t think any racial injustice justifies what went down. I’m thinking that is what his father is expressing as well.

            1. lambert strether

              I caveated that racism wssn’t on the list of factors I was to discuss. It sounds like you wanted me to write a different post than the post I wrote. Get your own blog, as Atrios used to say.

  5. Synoia

    It would be interesting to dig below the label “lower skilled” and ask what skills should they acquire?

    What jobs are open for the laid off manufacturing workers? What skills necessary?

    And if one acquires skills for a “job” how soon before that job emigrates?

  6. Toni Gilpin

    Great piece, but I’d like to suggest that whenever we talk about disinvestment and the loss of industrial jobs we must always reference the intentional destruction of the labor movement. It was the rise of industrial unionism that transformed factory labor – once low-paying, dangerous, and of uncertain duration – to an avenue into a decent life for workers of all colors. And so deindustrialization has been part of a larger campaign to break the power that workers had managed to assert through their unions. That was certainly true in Milwaukee, as this piece notes. There are a number of good studies about black workers in Milwaukee, notably Joe Trotter’s Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915-45. And the very important Allis-Chalmers plant, just outside Milwaukee, was in the years after WWII represented by an extremely militant and racially progressive organization – UAW Local 248. Allis-Chalmers was once Wisconsin’s leading employer and the destruction of this left-wing local — led by the company but assisted by the anti-communist leadership of the UAW – had a tremendous negative impact on race relations in Milwaukee and Wisconsin generally. That story is told in Steve Meyer’s Stalin over Wisconsin: The Making and Unmaking of Militant Unionism, 1900-1950.

    And of course since Wisconsin has been ground zero in the latest round of attacks on what’s left of the labor movement – public employee unions – it’s important to note that undermining the public service sector disproportionately affects African-Americans, both in terms of employment and in terms of the services rendered by government agencies. That is certainly true in Wisconsin, as this piece notes, and has also contributed to the decimation of Milwaukee’s black community. And that’s no accident, as politicians seeking to undermine the public sector have exploited racial divisiveness — a process made that much easier because the push-back that would have come from strong, integrated industrial unions (like UAW Local 248) was neutralized long ago.

  7. pissed younger baby boomer

    Like all former empires all of bottom of the barrel people ,know we are finished as nation were stage 4 cancer like the worn down person . welcome to the collapse people see the original Mad Max movie from the early 1980’s .

  8. fresno dan

    I posted this already in the main links, but I think it is very germane:

    What it shows is that the worker participation in the economy is far higher than it is here. When we have a secular religion of more GDP, and we NEVER consider how that GDP is divided, or what the policy of more GDP WITHOUT regard to employment, poverty, inequality does, we are being indoctrinated. The white working class has been subject to the bottom falling out of their lives, i.e., lack of jobs, as reflected in the death rates increasing for that demographic. It shouldn’t be hard to understand how a 40% unemployment rate undermines the social structure.

    Its funny how other countries can maintain high employment, but the US just doesn’t know how…

  9. Raider Moose

    I recently finished reading Matthew Desmond’s ‘Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City’, set in Milwaukee. I was stuck by the near meaninglessness of making “good” choices in the face of systemic obstacles.

  10. ekstase

    This is a really good piece. I’d like to give it more thought. Milwaukee, historically, had some wonderful qualities. It’s terrible that this historic discrimination is a part of that.

    Also, as far as The NYT ignoring racism, I think that intersects with an idea that, if it happens in the Midwest, it just can’t be important.

  11. Edward

    The excuses offered by the police speak volumes about the people in law enforcement. I think Malcom X’s mother was targeted by Milwaukee or Lansing’s version of the clan.

    I wonder how important the black market is in Milwaukee’s economy? I believe the black market makes up about 15% of the U.S. economy.

  12. Denis Drew

    There are low skilled jobs galore that can pay just as much as factory jobs. Anybody who reads or writes at any of these progressive blogs ever hear of the words “collective bargaining”?

    With collective bargaining workers are paid by the max the consumer is willing to fork up — not by the minimum for which the desperate worker is willing to show up.

    Lack of collective bargaining is especially harmful to American raised workers of all colors in mixed American raised/foreign raised work forces like Chicago’s. The labor market doesn’t clear evenly. Look at fast food in Chicago and it is all Mexican and (East) Indian labor. My old taxi job has been “outsourced” to the whole world.

    Foreign raised workers are willing to show up for $400 a week — Am are not. We want $800. If there were nobody but Am around they would have to pay $800. Also if wage were set by collective bargaining they would have to pay $800.

    In any case with collective bargaining you intuit you have squeezed the best the economy (a.k.a., the consumer) of your era can produce (a.k.a., pay).

    Result of dropout of Am in Chicago: an unbelievable 100,000 out of my guesstimate 200,000 gang-age, minority males are in drug dealing street gangs. (Last night the TV said, if I remember correctly, 40 of the 52 shot over weekend had 672 arrests among them.)

    Especially with a mixed rich country/poor country work force you desperately need to restore collective bargaining — to make the American labor market workable (pun intended) again.
    * * * * * * * * *
    Intimidating union organizing is illegal everywhere — and nowhere/nowhere practicably. If caught firing an organizer you must rehire her. Doesn’t matter if you fully compensate her income loss and never fire her again — you got away with thereal bank robbery money anyway; you barred the certification election anyway.

    Only remedy that makes economic sense: a finding of union busting should lead to a mandatory certification election. I believe this sanction has to take place at the federal level (NLRB preemption). This could be possible if Hillary pulls enough reps and senators with her. [Be a great issue for Hillary with the blue collar voter.]

    At the state level union busting now needs to be taken as as seriously and as harmful an unfair market practice as, say, taking a movie in the movies — which will get you a couple of years federal hospitality.

    As long as nobody else talks about re-unionization (as the beginning and the end of re-constituting the American dream) — nobody thinks it is possible to talk about …
    … or something.

    Easy as pie to make union busting a felony in our most progressive states f(WA, OR, CA, NV, IL, NY, MD) — and then get out of the way as the first 2000 people in the many telephone directories re-define our future.

    After I described the American labor spinning wheels market to my late brother John, he came back with: “Martin Luther King got his people on the up escalator just in time for it to start going down for everybody.

    1. reslez

      > This could be possible if Hillary pulls enough reps and senators with her. [Be a great issue for Hillary with the blue collar voter.]

      It may be possible in the “infinite universes” sense of the word, but there’s nothing in Hillary’s record that suggests she would ever push for meaningful pro-union legislation. Literally nothing. The Clintons’ entire métier centers around gutting unionized labor and shipping jobs overseas then collecting checks from big money donors. This is a wishful fantasy on the level of the Loch Ness Monster is what I’m saying. Hillary had made a calculated decision to throw blue collar voters in the garbage. To be blunt.

      > Easy as pie to make union busting a felony in our most progressive states

      Is it? Because I love pie but this sounds like more Loch Ness monster to me. In practice I suspect this would require massive popular organization against legislatures and the judiciary, because even if you get such a law passed (in the face of huge Chamber of Commerce opposition and all the dark PACs) you still need prosecutors to actually take the cases and throw their golfing buddies in jail.

      1. sd

        Clinton was on the Board of Walmart while there was a union drive going on. She did not speak up in favor of workers when she was in a unique position to do so. Why would she stand up for workers now? They’re not paying her meal ticket, management is.

  13. RabidGandhi

    Entertainingly, the police are blaming outside agitators, and the press are building the case that the dead man deserved to be shot. The governer declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. One might almost think there was a script.

    It is with a script, and it’s an international script.

    If you’ll permit me some déjà vu: In winter 2002 Argentina was still in the grips of her IMF-induced financial crisis. Collectives of the unemployed (piqueteros) regularly staged demonstrations and blockaded routes (“one might almost think that rioting was the only way to draw attention to the problem“). That June, the police shot two protesters in cold blood and wounded three dozen more. The first thing the press did was immediately blame the massacre on a battle between rival groups, with the perfunctory claim of “outside agitators”. However, as more photos were released conclusively showing the kids being murdered by the police, the media switched stories. Now the protestors had gone out “looking to be killed” because their death would bolster their rep. Later investigations have proven that the security forces had a prepared plan to violently repress the protest, and that the police were given license to kill.

    The upshot here is that once the facts became incontrovertible, the short-lived Duhalde government was forced to call elections, and the neoliberals were given the summary heave-ho. Not sure what the upshot will be in Milwaukee.

    There’s an excellent documentary on how the press handled the Avellaneda Massacre, La Crisis Causó Dos Nuevas Muertes, subtitled on the youtubes.

  14. Tabar

    Another key point of reference on race and class is Jeffrey Perry’s work on Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen (author of “The Invention Of The White Race”). Check out this presentation on Youtube.

  15. Roquentin

    Thanks for this excellent post. I recently read a Reddit thread local to Milwakee on the riots and the comments were almost too hideous to handle. I think what bothered me the most was the near universal approbation of racist tropes.

    1. reslez

      Reddit seems to cultivate the worst in people. Yet another example of technology designed by white male geeks. They can’t get it through their skulls that a subset of their users will actively seek to abuse the others. They don’t see it as a problem because they’re not targeted.

      Reddit is semi-anonymous which gives cover to bigots and hatred. Sociopaths engage in trolling and harassment campaigns, get weak-minded followers to do the same, and use “free speech” as a cover. (Google “the Fappening” for an example of what happens there. Or maybe don’t — some of the victims were underage.) “Free speech” it may be, but it drives out anyone targeted by the hatred and eliminates the possibility of informative discourse in all but the smallest, carefully moderated subs. If you add up all the groups who get targeted (blacks, women, Muslims) they constitute a numerical majority of the population. This means their audience reach is self-limiting. All the large sites fail when it comes to this, however, so Reddit is merely an example of the kind.

      It’s also an instructive example of how people at the top of the totem pole reinforce their dominance by shouting down everyone else as loudly and angrily as possible.

      1. aab

        I feel like you just described the general problem of social media. Some pro-Hillary female Tweeters dox, brigade, threaten rape and death; it’s not exclusive to Reddit.

        I’m a woman. I know what it means to be a female with opinions on the Internet. That’s definitely a real problem, but I’m seeing lots of other kinds of abusive online behavior these days, along different demographic lines. I only tiptoed onto Reddit because early Sanders supporters were using it as an organizing tool so robustly. Like every other major social media platform, it seems like it’s both good and bad. I do think Silicon Valley culture and who gets the funding is a big problem, but I don’t think that’s exclusive to Reddit, either.

  16. Wandering Mind

    I think Lambert’s difficulty in including race as part of the discussion is a general difficulty.

    On the other hand, there is often a difficulty on the part of other commentators, such as Tah Nahisi Coates, to include economics/class in their discussion.

    I think it is useful to think of the racial system and the class/economic system as separate systems, each of which can operate independently of the other, but in their American iteration mutually reinforce one another.

    The racial system in North America can be traced back to the 1600’s, a time when capitalism was barely getting started in England and not underway in its colonies. It developed over a period of 200 years before capitalism took hold in the United States in the pre-Civil War era.

    The American brand of capitalism, then, incorporated a pre-existing racial system and converted persons who did not fit into the “white” category into a distinct segment of the working class.

    The pre-existing divisions set up in the racial system were and continue to be useful in ensuring that those who need paychecks to have a decent life will not unite in their most effective way.

    On the other hand, the transition out of capitalism into, let’s say a worker run type system, does not guarantee the end of the racial system, as I believe can be seen in Cuba, for example.

    So, I think it is valid for persons who do not qualify as “white” to be suspicious of advocates who don’t or can’t bring race into their analysis and we need to do a better job in that department, including here at Naked Capitalism.

      1. flora

        From the last sentence in the above:
        ” The colonial elite realized the problems of indentured servitude. Landowners turned to African slaves as a more profitable and ever-renewable source of labor and the shift from indentured servants to racial slavery had begun. “

        The slave laborer created economic value in goods and commodities for the landowner; economic value that was forcibly extracted from the laborer. When I read Lambert’s description of Law Enforcement for Profit, above, it seemed rather similar in design. Forcible extraction of labor value from geographically captive populace.

    1. Rosario

      Someone mentioned it above but I always recommend Theodore Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” for a good materialist explanation of race in the United States. Manning Marable’s “How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America” is excellent as well. Both are extremely well cited and thoroughly researched. Maybe a little dated but still very relevant.

      It is possible to join the psycho-social elements of race with the materialist economic components, but, surprisingly (irony), that method seems to be marginalized in the left. Maybe because prominent leftists fear just how effective it can be in jostling the system (think Dr. King in 68). The tragedy is, it does a great service to elite interests to focus strictly on the identity of race as essential and immutable. There is little harm done to capitalists when their laborers are murdering each other over labor hierarchy.

    2. reslez

      > The pre-existing divisions set up in the racial system were and continue to be useful in ensuring that those who need paychecks to have a decent life will not unite in their most effective way.

      It makes me wonder how the Romans did it in their day — surely that would be instructive. They didn’t have racism as we do in today. How did the Romans divide each other up in smaller groups for the convenience of elites? I suppose for slaves there was the possibility of purchasing their own freedom at the end of their lives, the dangled carrot of becoming a freedman which was a sort of in-between state. Maybe it was the distinction between citizens and non-citizens?

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Just a random speculation, but I wonder if racism at least in the Anglosphere was invented around the time of Othello. Coleridge speaks of Iago’s “motiveless malignity,” but to modern eyes the motive seems clear enough; perhaps nobody had a name for something that already existed.

        1. Steve H.

          The Ugly, Fascinating History Of The Word ‘Racism’

          – The Oxford English Dictionary’s first recorded utterance of the word racism was by a man named Richard Henry Pratt in 1902.

          Etymology of ‘race

          – “people of common descent,” a word from the 16th century, from Middle French race, earlier razza “race, breed, lineage, family” (16c.), possibly from Italian razza, of unknown origin (cognate with Spanish and Portuguese raza). Etymologists say no connection with Latin radix “root,” though they admit this might have influenced the “tribe, nation” sense. ”

          I have a suspicion that in order to rise to the level of racism, the oppressed needs to be considered a ‘people.’ The fascist line is usually to consider the oppressed ‘subhuman’ and thus not part of the category, and it may have take the Civil War to enforce the notion that Blacks could be human. I wonder if the acceptance of Darwin impacted this; some of the caricatures satirizing his theory were effective but not pretty.

          “Professor Booker T. Washington, being politely interrogated … as to whether negroes ought to be called ‘negroes’ or ‘members of the colored race’ has replied that it has long been his own practice to write and speak of members of his race as negroes, and when using the term ‘negro’ as a race designation to employ the capital ‘N’ [“Harper’s Weekly,” June 2, 1906]”

        2. Tabar

          If you check out the link I provided above to Jeff Perry’s presentation on Allen’s work, I think you’ll come to understand that the issue is not “racism” but white supremacism: a deliberate political project to divide-and-rule an increasingly rebellious working population whose European and African members were perfectly comfortable fighting side-by-side. Modern “racism” is almost entirely a consequence and product of that political project of social control (which was the ruling class response to Bacon’s Rebellion). European-Americans had to be *taught* that they were “white,” and thus “superior,” and a range of compulsions and material incentives were used to ensure the lesson stuck.

  17. PQS

    Great piece-by-piece analysis with specificity. Even just one of these topics is useful in discussing the issue with the uninformed. (Which is the goal to effect change, right?)

    During the Ferguson aftermath, I read an article (I think in Rolling Stone) about how the Policing for Profit worked in Ferguson. There were literally dozens of townships, each with the authority to issue traffic tickets/collect money, that a person would have to drive through just to get to work on the other side of town. So a person making barely minimum wage could rack up tickets for something very minor and not dangerous (like a broken taillight) just by driving to work.

    When I explained this to my otherwise pretty RW relatives, they were stunned at how outrageous it was. And agreed that nobody in THEIR economic/social bracket would put up with that kind of thing for very long.

    That’s how we make progress: one or two minds at a time.

    1. flora

      Yes, I get it. Really. But gamed money/value extraction doesn’t begin and end with a specific race in a specific community. Think ‘asset forfeiture’, which is equal opportunity. Or, higher up, fraudulent mortgage forclosures done with forged documents or no documents, or malevolent HAMP shell games. Done by the courts. Equal opportunity to be sure. There’s a commonality of interest in stopping gamed and/or fraudulent asset takings. Whether the assets taken are an unpayable fine issued in bad faith or a mortgage forclosure done in bad faith.

  18. Roland


    Ancient Romans were racist.

    Roman histories show plenty of anti-Gallic racism. Roman racial attitudes towards the Greeks, Germans, Phonoecians, Moors and Egyptians are more complicated, but Romans certainly conceived of these people as being of separate races.

    And of course there’s the famous line from Juvenal’s Third Satire, in Tiberim defluxit Orontes.

    The Romans were also religious bigots: polytheism and syncretism do not necessarily make for religious toleration.

  19. WFGersen

    “The destruction of America’s — and Milwaukee’s industrial base — was motivated by greed. The realtors who ran blockbusting scams were motivated by greed. And the people who turn law enforcement into profit-making opportunities are motivated by greed. All three of our systemic factors, then, have greed at the heart, if the heart is the organ I want.”

    I’m not sure that GREED per se motivates city administrators and elected officials who are not corrupted by political contributions or outright bribery… but I AM sure that many well intentioned elected officials and public administrators have bought into the notion that they should run their enterprises “like a business” and in doing so have mimicked the behaviors of the corporations by outsourcing labor. And this behavior is reinforced by the notion of many voters that all taxes are “confiscatory” and “government is the problem”… and that, in turn, plays on the notion of many voters that they EARNED their money and they shouldn’t have to share it with those who are “takers”… and that, in turn, is exacerbated when many of the “takers” are public union members who receive pensions and benefits that are no longer available to private sector employees.

    Several years ago as a public school administrator I read, agreed with, and encouraged the implementation of many of the ideas Reinventing Government… in retrospect I see that many of the ideas incorporated in that book and others like it promoted the notion that government-funded agencies should behave more like corporations and THAT notion might be wrongheaded.

  20. Sluggeaux

    I can’t offer enough praise for this discussion of the intertwined issue of class, race, and the backlash against labor, against the backdrop of the reality of the twisted way in which our courts have driven the growing mass of the poor into debtor’s prison. Let me give a recent example of how our “enlightened” judiciary, beloved of the liberal elites, have been the agents of oppression.

    In Silicon Valley, six years ago a (relatively) progressive challenger unseated the Republican district attorney. One of his first acts after taking office in 2011 was to acknowledge, before Ferguson, that Suspended License and Petty Theft misdemeanors committed by the poor were driving over-representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the incarcerated population, contributing to unacceptable levels of jail over-crowding. He exercised his discretion to review each of these citations and reduce the vast majority from misdemeanor violations (punishable by jail) to infractions (not subject to incarceration), and to waive all fines if the offender completed classes or regained their licenses within 6-9 months.

    In the same timeframe, the judges decided to build, against the advice of the state judicial council, a new $200 million dollar courthouse, faced in Italian marble. They borrowed $110 million dollars against a rosy projection of revenues from fines and fees — which collapsed after the progressive district attorney began reducing the Suspended License and Petty Theft misdemeanors to no-fine infraction offenses.

    Fast-forward to August 2016: Silicon Valley just experienced a bitter 10-day strike by the court clerks, who dropped-out of SEIU, formed a militant union (led by a fiery Black woman), and walked-out because they haven’t had a cost-of-living increase in 8 years, making $55K-$64K salaries in one of the most expensive regions in the country (see the Palo Alto planning commissioner story about $2.4M houses). The clerks walked-out over a second year that would have cost an amount equivalent to a rounding-error on the new courthouse project — but they were fed-up with being treated poorly. One court employee was actually living in a homeless-shelter! Of course, the judges themselves had two raises during that 8 year period, but were claiming “poor” due to “falling revenues” — because the DA was doing the Right Thing on Suspended License and Petty Theft cases!

    “Justice For Profit” usually isn’t the cops — it’s the courts.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘a new $200 million dollar courthouse, faced in Italian marble’

      This was done on a nationwide scale in the 1990s, with vast, well-appointed new U.S. courthouses in cities across the nation. Outrageously, some were named for living senators, such as the $129 million Mark Hatfield US Courthouse in Portland, designed by Kohn Pederson Fox.

      Now a $318 million, 633,000 square foot judicial palace designed by Skidmore Owings Merrill is going up in Los Angeles. It’s LEED Platinum certified, so the Gulag will be kept fed with admirable energy efficiency.

      Going to prison has never been so green. :-)

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