By Sikivu Hutchinson
Here’s one more reason to rally against the candidacy of rabid Christian fundamentalist, college dropout and newly declared GOP presidential hopeful Governor Scott Walker—Wisconsin boasts the highest rates of suspension and incarceration for African Americans in the country. As a union-busting darling, Walker has emerged as one of the key architects of the radical right’s “take back the nation” agenda of dismantling civil rights, workers’ rights, gay rights, women’s rights and abortion rights. But while Walker’s destructive right-to-work policies are widely known, Wisconsin’s status as a cynosure for black mass incarceration and racial achievement gaps is not. Under Walker’s watch, Wisconsin, in which African Americans represent a mere 6.5% of the population, has over-disciplined and locked up more blacks than Southern states with two-three times the number of African Americans. The state is at the epicenter of the national suspension epidemic in which black children are criminalized as early as pre-school. Prison pipelining in K-12 is a precursor to school pushout, adult incarceration, homelessness and chronic unemployment. Yet Walker’s policies have decimated what little remains of the social welfare safety net; denying formerly incarcerated African Americans the prisoner reentry resources they need to get jobs, vocational training and access to college.
Wisconsin’s draconian sentencing and zero tolerance discipline policies drive these gross disparities. According to Gene Demby, “Wisconsin beats the state with the next-highest rate of imprisoned black men by nearly 3 percentage points—a gap bigger than the total distance between the second and tenth-place states.” The majority of the state’s incarcerated African Americans are non-violent drug offenders who come from Milwaukee. The city has a 40% black population and is one of the most segregated in the nation. While half of all 30-40 year old black Milwaukee men have been incarcerated nearly half of all black Milwaukee students have been suspended. By contrast only 16% of white Milwaukee students were suspended.
As foes of “big government”, Walker and his states’ rights acolytes conjure up the usual scapegoats of broken black families, violent neighborhoods, criminal behavior and disrespect for authority. But the criminal behavior and practices Walker won’t chest thump about are his administration’s responsibility for the state’s staggering racial achievement gap. Walker’s private school voucher program (which primarily goes to religious schools) has gutted Wisconsin’s public schools. His newly signed budget would expand the voucher program, cut $250 million in funding to the state’s university system and slash school districts’ funding. Currently the state is second only to D.C. in egregious disparities between black and white students in reading and math. High rates of suspension make black students more vulnerable to being pushed out of school permanently. And it’s no revelation that disproportionate suspension, expulsion and push-out correlate with low college preparation and college access rates among black youth.
Yet this is especially ironic given college dropout Walker’s bright future as one of the GOP’s leading “visionaries”. Walker’s white affirmative action ascent is a bird flip to people of color who don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected to higher public office without a college degree. Indeed, black college graduates have higher rates of unemployment than white high school graduates. Unlike Donald Trump, Walker is a clear and present danger to the future of social justice in America, a twenty-first century menace who would, without compromise, destroy every last vestige of the public sector and turn the U.S. into an even bigger prison than it is now.