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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Milwaukee Unity Caucus Hits the Streets

Elected officials reach out to a fearful neighborhood

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A group of state legislators, county supervisors and aldermen would seem to be an unlikely crime-fighting unit, but the recent quadruple homicides in the Metcalfe Park area forced the Milwaukee Unity Caucus to canvass the neighborhood searching for answers.

The Unity Caucus—a group of elected officials at various levels of government who meet monthly to share information about policy issues—became a bridge between a frightened neighborhood and law enforcement after the July 4 gang-related shootings.

The caucus held a press conference at City Hall to urge residents to call the police—anonymously— and offer tips. Those in attendance included state Sen. Spencer Coggs, state Sen. Lena Taylor, state Rep. Barbara Toles, state Rep. Pedro Colon, state Rep. Tamara Grigsby, Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, County Supervisor Elizabeth Coggs-Jones, Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines, Alderman Willie Wade, Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, Alderman Nik Kovac, Milwaukee Urban League President Ralph Hollman and others.

Then a handful of members hit the streets to assure neighbors that they could offer information without having their identity disclosed, a necessary precaution given the alleged role of Murda Mobb gang members in the killings.

“I think the fear is extremely real,” said Alderman Hamilton, who canvassed the neighborhood. “Because people retaliate all the time. Sometimes they get rocks thrown through windows, cars scratched up, graffiti on the house. A lot of times when you hear gunshots, those are not just random gunshots in the neighborhood. People have the feeling that a lot of the time they were intended to send a message to them about their cooperation or affiliation with the authorities.”

Unity Caucus members offered to take witnesses’ tips at their offices, act as liaisons between residents and the police, and arrange meetings at neutral locations so that those offering information wouldn’t appear to be cooperating with the police and risk retaliation. They also heard residents’ concerns about other issues affecting the area. “You have to listen to what’s going on in people’s lives,” Rep. Toles said.

Power in Unity

Alderman Wade, chair of the Unity Caucus, said that while the homicide effort seems to be a bit unusual for the caucus—which typically meets monthly at the NAACP offices—members are focused on issues that require attention at all levels government.

“These are the usual issues that plague our city,” Wade said. “Crime, unemployment, jobs, the tax base, health services, senior services, children’s issues, infrastructure issues.”

Hamilton said that the city’s elected officials and community organizations must work cooperatively to ensure that programs make sense and are implemented wisely.

“The state may have an initiative to create jobs with no consultation with other levels of government,” Hamilton said. “And then we, on the local level, try to advance an agenda or idea that would help, but have to create the climate that will make it happen.”

Wade said transportation will be a major focus of Unity Caucus efforts, since city and county officials know the community’s needs well, but that the funding will have to come from the state and federal governments.

“Without the city of Milwaukee getting adequate investment for our transportation system, it’s going to affect us economically in the future,” Wade said. Sen. Taylor, who launched the Unity Caucus early in her legislative career “because there’s power in unity,” said she’d like to create offices that pool together resources of all levels of government, so that residents don’t have to call various offices to try to find the correct government official to address a problem.

“A one-stop shop or a common place could be created so that people don’t have go all around trying to figure out which elected official can handle a specific concern,” Taylor said.

If you have information about the July 4 shootings, you can contact a member of the Unity Caucus or make an anonymous tip at 935-7360.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com

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