By Leon D Young
The American Red Cross (ARC), also known as the American National Red Cross, is a humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief and education in the United States. The organization was founded May 21, 1881 by none other than the legendary Clara Barton. And proudly purports that every 8 minutes the American Red Cross responds to another emergency. This sounds quite impressive on its face, but a new policy now being touted by the American Red Cross of Wisconsin suggests a far different narrative.
Just last Sunday, the agency revealed that it plans to expand its new initiative of meeting with families rendered homeless or affected by fires at police stations or at their Red Cross office. This is a radical departure the agency’s previous policy response of providing immediate, on-site volunteer assistance to fire victims in 10 Milwaukee ZIP codes, stretching from the city’s north side to the near south side. By the way, it must be noted that the 10 ZIP code area immediately impacted by the change have predominantly African-American and Latino populations, while areas that still will receive direct volunteer assistance are exclusively white.
The agency now facing mounting criticism has circled the wagon. And, in a frantic attempt to quell the rising tide, it has offered several explanations to justify its policy decision. First, because the Red Cross has assisted at five fires in Milwaukee under the new policy since Dec. 22, the agency alleges that this response has been quite successful and warrants the expansion of the new procedure. If this new approach has been so “successful,” then why isn’t this same approach being contemplated for white communities, as well?
Second, the agency claims that it already does not go out to fire scenes in rural parts of the state, instead offering help by phone. Hence, the Red Cross would have us to believe that this highly controversial decision should not be perceived as being racially motivated.
Third, Red Cross officials have also said the change was part of a broader shift to use volunteers more efficiently and have volunteers and families meet in a safe and warm place. But, this explanation doesn’t cut muster either. If this was the real motivation for this policy change, shouldn’t all volunteers and families be entitled to a safe and warm place irrespective of their ZIP codes?
Mayor Tom Barrett is right on this issue. There should not be a “separate but equal” approach to providing help to families affected by fires in Milwaukee. The patron saint and founder, Clara Barton, must be spinning like a top in her grave over this blatantly betrayal of the Red Cross’s signature mission. It would behoove the American Red Cross of Wisconsin to reconsider its woeful policy decision.