Milwaukee experienced every national hot-button issue in a single week, from carrying concealed guns, to the KKK, to blunt racial hatred as proof that White Supremacy is alive and well in the region.
The week began with a controversial photo showing city contractors brandishing handguns on a job site in a black neighborhood. It ended with an equally unsettling photo of a city contractor’s lunch cooler decorated with stickers of the Confederate flag and Ku Klux Klan. Both images appeared on Facebook and led to immediate public outrage.
The handgun photo was posted to Facebook on November 30, and went viral by December 4. By December 5, Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs called for a discussion on the issue at the Common Council’s Public Works Committee meeting on December 6. The following day, December 7, Alderwoman Coggs and Alderman Russell W. Stamper II were both the target of a racial hate attack. The White Supremacist lunchbox image then appeared on Facebook a day later on December 8.
In both instances of the social media photos, the Rubicon-based company American Sewer Services (ASS) was involved. ASS has done work for the City of Milwaukee for thirty years. Contractors often claim that they have trouble filling positions in the city because their employees do not want to work in Milwaukee. Yet, there is a surplus labor force in those job site areas who need the employment but are routinely overlooked because of racial issues.
These three concurrent events provide an example of how people with utter distain for everything about Milwaukee continue to profit from the area. It also illustrates that national issues with Neo-Confederate, Neo-Nazi, and KKK groups are alive and well in and around Milwaukee.
Members of the Milwaukee Common Council were first outraged at the Facebook photo showing an employee of a subcontractor hired by a company working for the Department of Public Works openly brandishing a handgun next to two coworkers carrying holstered handguns, at a worksite near N. 19th and W. Meinecke Streets.
Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, chair of the Finance and Personnel Committee, said the photo reflected poorly on the subcontractor and was being shared widely on social media. Alderman Stamper, in whose 15th District the photo was taken, said he was shocked and angered by the image.
“Behavior as dangerous and disrespectful as this is appalling and has no place in any neighborhood and by any city contractor, subcontractor, or representative,” said Alderman Stamper.
The owner of the contracting company, American Sewer Services, was summoned to meet with DPW Commissioner Ghassan Korban on the issue. The men working for American Sewer Services in the gun photo were finishing a $1.14 million project that was rehabilitating 11 sewer locations. Two men in the photo were suspended and the third was fired.
The city of Milwaukee has a policy barring employees and contractors from carrying weapons while on the job, but Assistant City Attorney Katherine Block said that policy is not referenced in contracts with ASS. The current policy prohibiting contractors from being armed at work was not be strong enough to be enforced. It was therefore difficult to terminate the work by American Sewer Services on those grounds.
As a result, members of the Common Council intend to introduce legislation that would prevent city contractors from carrying weapons. The legislation will be introduced by Alderman Stamper. The plan will align contractors with the city employment policy that forbids workers from carrying firearms on the job.
“The ethnic backgrounds of the men pictured in the photo, and the demographics of the neighborhood in which they were working, are totally opposite. Much of the public chatter about this picture is highly divided along those lines,” said Alderwoman Coggs. “I would hope that as we continue to make policy and discuss this issue, that we base it in fact. And that we don’t let those same lines that the public is getting caught up in catch us up as we fight to make the best policies possible.”
Following the debate, and the considerable fallout afterwards, Alderwoman Coggs, an African American woman, posted a screenshot of an eMail she received to Instagram. It was sent after the hearing by someone identified as ‘Kevin Paul’ and said:
“You colored folks in government should just shut the fuck up. Whitey is starting to arm up because all your little nigga chillen are robbing and killing. Does the name Ziggy ring a bell? You folks should have been shipped back from where you came when you were freed.”
“We can agree to disagree all day, but the threats and racial slurs will not be tolerated,” said Alderwoman Coggs. The eMail sent to Alderman Stamper read:
The email sent to Stamper said, “You all up in arms over whitey carrying guns in an area of the city where the “animals” are known to rob and kill, (Ziggy). Yet, 2 dumb n****rs shooting off their guns outside of Brett’s Farmhouse, drive them out of business. N****rs ruin everything.”
Bringing a close to the racially charged week was the photograph, again posted on Facebook, by Sam Singleton-Freeman. It was part of a series of images from a job site at N. 25th Street and W. Wells Street. It showed a lunch cooler adorned with unmistakable symbols of White Supremacy.
In his December 8 post, Singleton-Freeman said, “I ran into this about 2pm today at 25th and Wells. I asked one of the workers who they work for, he said they work for a contractor but he wouldn’t tell me the name of the company. One of the workers had on a union hoodie, too. Black contractors and workers should be getting these jobs, not Klan supporters.”
In response to the development, organized labor groups have called for a December 11 rally to condemn the contractor working for American Sewer Service, and they are seeking an end to its contract with the city. A statement released by the protest organizers said:
“No worker can be both a Unionist and a Fascist. White Supremacists are the enemy of organized labor and the entire multi-national working class. The KKK is a White Supremacist terrorist group responsible for killing African Americans, LBGTQ people, trade Unionists, and others. Unions stand for economic and social justice. We condemn and actively fight against White Supremacy and Fascism in the workplace and society.”
Sam Singleton-Freeman and Brian Oliver