Stronger, together. I’ve said that countless times, choosing to always put the focus on unity and cooperation, not division and discord, as we seek to move past our differences and work together to solve problems.
I’ve said it as mayor, as a legislative candidate, and in countless conversations with friends, colleagues, family and my kids.
I’ve urged it as we worked to unite South Milwaukeeans around an agenda for our promising future. I’ve urged it as we continue to address the pandemic, doing the best we can amid a generational challenge.
Today I hope and pray for that same unity as we confront the societal realities revealed and illuminated by the death of George Floyd, and the protests that have followed.
Stronger, together. Now, more than ever.
In the last 10 days, I have thought a lot about what I would write on this platform, knowing that whatever I say here will not go far enough for some, and will go too far for others.
Some will say I’m a politician exploiting issues that I have no business weighing in on because of the color of my skin. Others will say I should have a stronger voice and lead from the front.
Some will say I’m part of the problem. Others will say I, and leaders like me, need to be more a part of the solution.
I’ll let others judge as I speak from the heart and say and do what I think is right. This is where I stand.
I stand with the peaceful protestors — and against those who seek to do harm to our communities.
I stand with the police department, and the vast, vast majority of officers who are committed to keeping us safe and put their lives on the line every day to do so — and against officers who abuse that public trust and commit unjustified acts of violence.
I stand with those who are speaking out across this city, state and country. I am inspired by the diversity of those who have taken to the streets to raise their voices in support of black Americans and against hatred and prejudice. These are Americans of all colors fighting for change, many of them are my (and your) friends, colleagues and neighbors.
At the same time, I stand against those who are using these peaceful protests as a means to violent ends. There is no place for violence and lawlessness in the name of protesting. This drowns out the message, puts our officers and the public at risk, and makes the change sought that much harder to achieve. When residents are scared for their safety, buildings are engulfed in flames, businesses are looted, and dissenting views are shouted down, it’s hard to see beyond that, to a place where real change happens.
But we have to see beyond it nonetheless.
I stand with the police officers — husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends and neighbors — who have decided to make protecting and serving our community their jobs, and the many who do it well. They should not be shot at, assaulted, and targeted for doing those jobs.
Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated our officers and their work before the South Milwaukee Common Council with the presentation of the department’s annual report, a summary what our officers are doing to work alongside the community to keep our city safe. That night, I celebrated that policing partnership and called our officers “everyday heroes,” as I have many times. That remains true.
But this is not the case everywhere and in all cases, and police officers who break the law must be held accountable. Those responsible for the death of George Floyd — and the too many other black Americans who have lost their lives due to criminal actions by the police — must be brought to justice. No one can be above the law.
Black lives must matter, and we must put in the hard and sometimes painful work to make sure that is the case.
We face huge challenges in doing so.
There are too many black Americans dying unnecessarily at the hands of police. Institutional racism exists. Gaping inequities between white and black Americans are real. The societal problems faced by people of color in this country are undeniable. Hate and prejudice live.
All of this is true, and it’s true in South Milwaukee. We must face all of this as a nation, and as a community. The protests have brought that front and center this week, as have the words I’ve heard loudly and clearly from people across our community.
We must hear their voices, and act, bringing to life the change we need.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers here, or any at all. But we need to do better. Change must come.
Let’s make these protests mean something. Let’s get to work.
And that’s my pledge to South Milwaukee: To do my part to address the past, present and future of race in our city, starting a dialogue that I hope will lead to real and necessary change.
Let’s start today with one small, but still significant, way to have an impact: Stepping up to be on a city board or commission. We have more than a dozen of these bodies, and each plays a role in driving thought and action in specific areas of government. See the full list and apply to join one here. We currently have a vacancy on the Board of Health, with other vacancies coming up throughout the year, across boards and commissions.
Diverse candidates are encouraged. Diversity makes us stronger, and the makeup of our boards and commissions today does not reflect our increasingly ethnically diverse city. We, I, need to do better here, and will.
And I need your help to do it. Please apply.
Of course, this is just the start, and it’s not enough. There is more work to come and do, and you’ll hear more about it in the weeks, months and years ahead. I ask the community to join me, knowing we are, and always will be, stronger, together.