Dahmer Case Unleashes Black Anger in Milwaukee
Residents accuse police of being indifferent to minority concerns
MILWAUKEE, WIS. — OUTRAGE is shaking this lakefront city in the aftermath of Jeffrey Dahmer's confession to 17 grisly murders. But not all of the anger is directed at Mr. Dahmer.Since his arrest late last month, there have been protests, sit-ins, and candlelight vigils. The Rev. Jesse Jackson came to town last week "to seek healing to get past this present stage of nightmare and calamity." But many residents, particularly in the gay and minority communities, say the Dahmer case is focusing attention on long-standing local problems that demand attention. Most of Dahmer's victims were black, and he often picked up victims in gay bars. The biweekly gay newspaper, Wisconsin Light, printed a special edition to address the anger and fear among local gays. The case is exposing issues such as minority distrust of the police department and general dissatisfaction within the black community. "The Dahmer case has put all this on the front page," says Donald Leake, president of the Ozaukee County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Michael McGee, a black alderman here, started the Black Panther Militia last year and has vowed to take violent action if conditions for blacks in Milwaukee don't improve by 1995.
Resignation sought In the wake of the Dahmer case, Mr. McGee has called for the resignation of Mayor John O. Norquist and Police Chief Philip Arreola. There's been a "deafening silence, in large part, from the local white leadership," says Walter C. Farrell Jr., a professor of community studies at the University of Wisconsin here. "City race relations have been in a state of disrepair for nearly a decade," Dr. Farrell says. "What the Jeffrey Dahmer situation did was to exacerbate and highlight the problems." Revelations about Milwaukee police actions prior to arresting Dahmer have added fuel to existing complaints that police are indifferent to black concerns. The family of one of Dahmer's victims has filed a $3 million federal lawsuit against the city alleging that police officers improperly investigated a complaint by minority citizens. Two months before Dahmer's arrest, Glenda Cleveland, a black woman living in the neighborhood, reported seeing a bleeding, naked Asian youth outside. Three officers questioned Dahmer but ignored her suggestion that the situation was serious. Police recordings of radio transmissions show that the officers returned the 14-year-old boy to Dahmer's apartment; they said Dahmer convinced them that the youth was an adult. They cracked jokes about the situation, calling the incident a "boyfriend-boyfriend thing." Ms. Cleveland's repeated requests for further information were rebuffed. In July, the boy's body was found in Dahmer's apartment. Many black community leaders say that had Dahmer been a black man, he might well have been arrested at that time. Outraged residents marched on City Hall and police headquarters throughout last week. After press coverage of the incident, Chief Arreola suspended the three officers with pay while an investigation is under way. Mayor Norquist acknowledged that racial insensitivity was a factor and created a panel to study police-community relations. The panel is expected to make recommendations within 60 days. "There's been a festering sore with regard to police relations since 1981 when an innocent black man was killed," Farrell says, referring to the case of Ernest Lacy, who was picked up on an alleged rape charge and died in police custody.
Tale of two cities In 1989, a University of Chicago study listed Milwaukee as one of five "hypersegregated" cities in the United States. Most blacks live on the north side of the city, while the majority of whites live on the south side. "There's clearly a tale of two cities here," Farrell says. "There's one community that's protected, respected, and one that is protected in part and disrespected in many instances." Milwaukee, long promoted as a clean, safe city, is undergoing an assault of urban woes. The city's homicide rate has more than doubled in the past three years and three-fourths of the 1990 homicide victims were black. In addition, single-parent families and births among black teenagers are at record levels. Black families in Milwaukee have the lowest median income among US cities of comparable size, and the black unemployment rate is 18 percent, about six times the rate among whites. The city's manufacturing base has been rapidly shrinking, about one-third of the high-paying jobs were lost in the '80s. The black population, which includes more than 25 percent of the city's 600,000 people, has been most hurt by these economic losses. "We saw these problems emerging five or six years ago," Farrell says, "and there's been no policy put in place to resolve them.... The Dahmer case has focused the underlying resentment and anger of thousands of black people in this community who are locked out of the good life."