I received a phone call yesterday from Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski about my June 25 blog post, “The racism of New Berlin is growing in Galveston.” The mayor told me someone contacted him who thought I was accusing everyone in Galveston of being racist.
All I could say to the mayor was, “Did the person who called you even read what I wrote? I wrote no such thing.”
With a handful of noisy exceptions, the many people of Galveston I know are great people who are too busy rebuilding their beautiful community to waste their time trying to whip up hatred and fear against poor families who need a home.
But there are a handful of folks in Galveston who seem to have nothing better to do than to speak over and over in public, words designed to instill fear and prejudice against less fortunate Galveston families who lived in public housing before Ike destroyed their homes. As I wrote on June 25…
Prejudice, paranoia and hatred are an individual sickness that corrupts the soul of those who are infected. When the press, religious leaders, political leaders and good citizens don’t confront people who have this sickness it can spread to become an epidemic, crippling and corrupting an entire community.
I reported that the United States Department of Justice filed a suit alleging the City of New Berlin, Wisconsin had violated the Fair Housing Act by denying a developer permission to build a mixed senior, family low-income housing development.
The complaint details the appalling statements of some citizens of New Berlin…
… city officials received numerous emails, calls, and other communications from residents of New Berlin, the large majority of whom voiced opposition to the May 3 approval and the MSP [housing] project. Some of the opposition was based in part on fear that the prospective tenants would be African American or minority. The Mayor, Aldermen, Plan Commissioners, and staff at DCD were aware that community opposition was based in part on race. The communications they received over several weeks contained express and implied racial terms that were derogatory and based on stereotypes of African American residents. These communications referenced “niggers,” “white flight,” “crime,” “drugs,” “gangs,” “families with 10 or 15 kids,” of needing “to get a gun,” of “slums,” of not wanting New Berlin to turn into “Milwaukee,” of moving to New Berlin “to get away from the poor people,” of not wanting to provide housing to people “who work but do not live here.”
I don’t think that most citizens of New Berlin engaged in this type of rhetoric. But enough did to launch a recall effort against the mayor of New Berlin who had voted for the project. These voices intimidated the mayor and the city council to cancel the permits for the affordable housing.
The mayor wrote to a friend in an email cited in the complaint…
Our city is filled with prejudiced and bigoted people who with very little facts are making this project into something evil and degrading…
No, most people in New Berlin don’t go around spewing hatred and fear. But some did. And the good people who know that this is wrong did not stand up and oppose the cancerous fear and hatred of the small minority in their city who infected the body politic. Things in New Berlin got so bad the Department of Justice had to step in.
My point is that there are disturbing parallels between what happened in New Berlin and what is happening in Galveston.
It is important for the good people of the community to continue to live their values of tolerance, charity and humanity. It is also important for good people to not simply ignore, but to confront fear, paranoia and hatred, even when it is only voiced by a boisterous handful of citizens.
Here is a copy of the complaint filed by the Justice Department against New Berlin. It makes for interesting reading.