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Sterling Brown’s Case is only Shocking if You’re Not Black in Milwaukee

Milwaukee and America’s history unfortunately repeats itself.

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, May 23rd, the Milwaukee Police department released video footage of an interaction that occurred with Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown on January 26, 2018. Police used a taser on Brown and arrested him over a parking violation around 2:00 am that morning. Brown wasn’t charged with any criminal violations following his arrest. Similarly, no charges were filed against the arresting officers at the time, however, Brown does plan to file a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Police Department regarding the incident. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said to the Journal Sentinel that “I’m going to let the release of that speak for itself but yes I definitely have concerns after watching that video.”

Full disclosure: I’m not going to talk about the video. I don’t need to. That’s not what this is about. For anyone still reading, I recognize that this piece may not reflect your slice of America, but I ask you to open your minds and step into my shoes for a few minutes of your day. To me, Sterling Brown’s arrest fits into a much larger picture of what it means to be black in America in 2018.

Hearing about a person being tased for a parking violation would probably be surprising to most people, in most places. Unfortunately, a black man being violently tased and arrested in Milwaukee is just another blip in the long history of systematic racism that permeates the city. Unless of course, that black man was a rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks.

For those who didn’t grow up in Milwaukee, it might be surprising to learn that Milwaukee is the most racially segregated city in America. The segregation started with policies going back the 1930’s that prevented minorities from obtaining mortgages to build their wealth and develop their communities. Though federal regulations officially ended this practice during the Civil Rights Movement, the effects remain. While segregation alone might not sound like the worst thing, Wisconsin also:

  • Suspends black high school students at a higher rate than anywhere else in America according to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
  • Has one of the highest achievement gap between black and white students of any state in the country, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • Has the highest black male incarceration rate at nearly 13%, almost double the national average due to an emphasis on drug enforcement rather than treatment, per the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, more than 50% of black men in their 30s-40s have been incarcerated, making it difficult to find employment, leading to…
  • The highest rate of black unemployment in the country. In May 2017, the white unemployment rate in Milwaukee was a mere 2.7%, while the black unemployment rate was more than 5x higher at a whopping 13.8%, per the Milwaukee Business Journal which leads to…
  • 4 out of 5 black children in the state living in poverty according to the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families

As a smaller American city, Milwaukee rarely makes the news in discussions of racial disparities, but those who live here can’t miss it. Bucks president Peter Feign commented on the issue in September 2016 in a speech in Madison.

Much like the rest of America, Milwaukee has also had its fair share of police shootings of unarmed black men, including Dontre Hamilton, shot while sleeping on a park bench in April of 2014 and Manuel Burnley Jr., shot while riding a bus in March of 2016. While wealth and class help the players on the Milwaukee Bucks escape those situations, they’re unable to escape the color of their skin and still face added scrutiny from police in their day-to-day lives.

As such, Sterling Brown isn’t the first Bucks player to have had issues with Milwaukee area law enforcement. Back in 2015, center John Henson was racially profiled by a jewelry store just north of Milwaukee in Whitefish Bay. Henson was going to buy some jewelry but the employees locked the door on him and called the police. Officers arrived and questioned Henson regarding his vehicle and why he was there. Henson was simply trying to be a normal customer hoping to buy a watch. Why should he be treated differently due to his skin color?

No matter how high you reach in life, you are still defined as a black man first and foremost. It comes with many loaded preconceptions and that’s a problem that the MPD, and the country need to address. Fortunately, we have celebrities like Colin Kapernick kneeling and LeBron James speaking out. They can’t just “shut up and dribble” or stand for the flag even though it might make some uncomfortable. They see injustices and use their platform to speak about it and I feel the need to do the same.

Perhaps the greatest portrayal of this expectation for black celebrities to be seen and not heard, appreciated for their talent, but never for their voice, comes from Childish Gambino’s music video for “This is America”. It shows African Americans in a certain light, where no one objects as they are simply sources of entertainment. However, when black celebrities steer away from their lane, so to speak, outrage ensues.

For many, seeing the news and the video of Brown’s arrest will be shocking; some of you will have your blood boiling, some might simply not get it, others won’t be surprised. The part that has my stomach in knots and makes my blood boil is how easily this situation could have turned even worse. Brown thankfully didn’t suffer the same fate as Stephon Clark or Philando Castile, but it easily could have been different.

That night it was Brown, but it easily could have been myself, my brother, my dad, etc. Racial bias plagues Milwaukee and the nation, regardless of celebrity status. These incidents have me wondering what needs to be done in the city. Why were so many officers at Walgreen’s in the first place? Was a taser truly necessary? What message does this send to the other black players on the Milwaukee Bucks? How can you feel comfortable living in the city you’re employed in? The Milwaukee Bucks had a strong statement showing support for Sterling and so did many of his teammates. This is great to see and its always a start. But we as supporters, whether you live in Milwaukee, Madison, Austin, Jakarta or Sydney need to start truly having these hard discussions to see how we can improve. For some of you this is only an issue you’re aware of because it involves a player on your favorite team. For myself and others this isn’t just a news story; this is reality.