By Senator Lena C. Taylor
In October 2021, Governor Tony Evers called for a special session to address gun violence in Wisconsin. Those calls were ignored by state republicans. Today, gun violence is worse. As legislators, we are either going to be a part of the solution or accept our share of blame for enabling the problem.
Finger wagging and personal responsibility chants mean nothing. Talking about what goes on in the streets, while ignoring what goes on in state houses, doesn’t work either.
Legislative policies that weaken existing gun laws, lowers the age of gun ownership, or that remove red flags rules on gun possession are certainly apart of the problem. While I support responsible gun ownership, I do not condone lax policies or inflammatory rhetoric. The two behaviors aid in an increase of guns into the wrong hands.
We have people hell-bent on destroying our communities, one another, or anything that is different. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless. So the question becomes, as legislators what is our responsibility in all of this violence. I think our role is bigger than many of my colleagues, both locally and nationally, would ever be willing to admit.
Truth be told, I don’t know that residents fully appreciate the role that harmful and biased policies have played in the violence that plague our communities. By the time we see the behavior materialize in the streets, many incorrectly view that has “the problem.” In reality, those behaviors are the symptoms of an outsized combination of a number of factors.
While it is easy to identify one component of the problem and yell from the rooftop that it’s “the parents” fault, a close look at history reveals it’s so much deeper than that.
Wisconsin was not named the worst place to raise a Black child solely because of their parents. The Annie E. Casey Foundation spearheaded a study entitled “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children”. It scored states according to 12 different factors, from educational access and socioeconomic status to home life. While Wisconsin scored 10th in the nation for its preparation of white children, the state scored the lowest in its ability to prepare Black children.
Shortly thereafter, there was a review of Milwaukee Public Schools actions that resulted in the over-suspension and expulsion of Black students. A federal investigation was initiated that exposed that in a sizeable amount of instances, white students were getting leniency for similar behaviors of Black students. However, Black students were often shown the door.
Given the community’s frustration with the state of public safety, it feels like Black children are going to be the sole scapegoat. Black youth do not manufacture or own guns stores, they do not set lax gun ownership rules, and create polices that put more guns on the streets. Bottom line, when we are placing blame for what’s going on in our streets, there is plenty of blame to go around.