Peter King, Green Bay and race in Wisconsin

Ryan Glasspiegel
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Peter King

Peter King’s annual training camp trip began this week with a jaunt from Milwaukee to Green Bay. Downtown Green Bay is a veritable football cathedral. The ghosts of the Lombardi era, and now even the 90’s era, are of the friendly haunting variety. You’re surrounded by football history, and just about every man, woman, and child there loves the sport and their team.

This and other factors make it the perfect place for a football writer:

What King, obviously, meant by that is that everybody was calm, friendly, and warm. Wisconsin is like that, especially in the summer. Strangers are treated like lifelong friends. Nobody seems to harbor any ill will, or even anxiety.

You will observe people eating red meat and cheese, imbibing in adult beverages, and in many cases just sucking down cigarettes. As a visitor, you’ll When in Rome … at least those first two. There’s very much the George Strait “I’m not here for a long time, I’m here for a good time” mentality. I’ve been visiting Wisconsin since I was young – my Dad grew up outside Milwaukee, I went to summer camp up North, and attended UW-Madison — and it’s always been my favorite place in the country to go.

However, what Peter King and I experience there — and what American society was like in the past — is not the same for everyone, and he received a set of responses that led to this follow-up tweet:

For 25+ years, I visited Wisconsin without ever noticing what prompted that. About three years ago, when things started to get serious enough with my now-fiancée that we were discussing future plans together, I said I wanted to live in Wisconsin when we have kids, and she said hell no.

My fiancée, who is black, explained to me that African-Americans and other minorities are not treated well there. She grew up in Illinois near the Wisconsin border, and said that when she crossed over, especially in the rural areas, she would always receive looks that she perceived as either hateful, or of the bewildering variety where she thought they were wondering which athlete she was related or married to.

Eventually, we reached an understanding. We can live in Wisconsin, if I buy her a horse. She reasons that the happiness from this lifelong dream of hers would outweigh the anxiety she feels from being uncomfortable in and with the state. However, I ran the numbers and it appears as though a horse costs about $10,000 to feed and stable, and who knows what more in veterinary bills. Suffice to say, we are not living in Wisconsin anytime soon.

Admittedly, my reflexive reaction was to believe that she was overreacting to subjective factors. However, when I really looked into it, her concerns were more than warranted.

According to the New Yorker, which covered the Milwaukee criminal justice system in depth in 2015, “African-Americans [in Wisconsin] constitute only six per cent of the population but thirty-seven per cent of those in state prison.” A 2013 NPR piece covered a UW-Milwaukee study, which noted that 12.8% of black men (more than 1 in 8!) in the state were incarcerated. This was the most in America, 3% more than the next highest state (Oklahoma), and nearly twice the national average (the study also found that Native American males were incarcerated at a rate of more than twice the national average). Further:

“Forty percent (N=10,497) of the African American males from Milwaukee County incarcerated since 1990 were drug offenders. In the early 1990s African Americans had 4 times as many annual admissions for drug-related offenses as white men. As drug offenses soared in the 2002 to 2005 years African American men had 11 to 12 times as many drug-related prison admissions as white men.”

To believe that this is foremost the result of anything other than a discriminating criminal justice system is to believe that black men in Wisconsin are twice as unruly and/or drug-using as their national counterparts, which seems totally implausible. Anger over this is compounded when one sees, say, a white suburban couple avoid jail time after defrauding the welfare system for years, despite earning over six figures annually.

This is not to say that things never can or will improve for minorities in Wisconsin – the New Yorker details those efforts at local levels – but it’s wholly understandable when people point out that it is not an idyllic paradise for non-white people.

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