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Wis. State Senator: Milwaukee Unrest Fueled By Decades Of 'Hurt And Anger'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For more on the situation in Milwaukee, we are joined now by state Senator Lena Taylor. She lives near the part of the city where the protests have focused. Thank you for being with us, Senator Taylor.

LENA TAYLOR: It is truly my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Now, the police and the mayor are saying that Syville Smith was holding a pistol in his hand when he was shot. And they say all signs point to the police shooting being justified. So explain the violent reaction that we've seen and what you think caused it.

TAYLOR: Well, I think a few things. First, we should not make assumptions. We should let the justice system and the process happen. And I don't think the mayor or anyone else should make those kinds of judgment calls since they have not provided all of the information, including, for example, that the gentleman that was shot was a concealed carry gun owner.

And so I am not clear about anything else related to the case, so I will leave that for the process for the system. But to answer your question about the reason, so to say, for - and you, I think, labeled it violent, and I would argue it is hurt and anger, untreated, unrecognized, ignored for decades.

SHAPIRO: Talk about some of the causes of that hurt and anger.

TAYLOR: Let's be clear, we were ranked and labeled as the worst place in the nation to raise a black child.

SHAPIRO: And I know that Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate for African-American men in the country - nearly 13 percent.

TAYLOR: We do, not to mention that our reading scores for third and eighth grade had been, if they are not now, the worst in the nation for black children. In addition to that, our achievement gap is ranked one of the highest in the disparities between black and white children. You know, the list could go on...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

TAYLOR: ...Our infant mortality rate, food deserts - you know, the list could go on. So all of that is the place that creates the individuals that some people want to react in the way that they understand.

SHAPIRO: So with these years of frustration and anger grounded in these real inequalities suddenly bursting out, what do the leaders in Milwaukee need to do now both to short-term address what's happening today and to long-term address what caused these problems in the first place?

TAYLOR: I think that's the perfect question that has to be asked, and I think the first thing we have to do is hear. We have to hear the cry out that clearly is happening. We have to recognize it, and we have to help heal the hurt and redirect the energy.

You know, do I want individuals damaging property? I do not, but they're saying, do you see the human damage that's happening every day in front of your eyes? We can't take it anymore, and it does not make their behavior to burn up the very community that you have to live in, to harm the very businesses that employ people in the community, but it is a reflection of the depth, of the hurt, the depth of the frustration, the depth of the hopelessness.

SHAPIRO: So as a leader in this community, what is your message now to the people living in Milwaukee who are experiencing this unrest, this anger, this expression of frustration that is in many cases taking a destructive form?

TAYLOR: A couple of things - one of the things I said last night is we need love in our community, and we need people to love on each other and to come and help to rebuild in the community, to be the change that we want to see. And I said to some young people who were, you know, really passionate about how they feel, and I said, you know, let me show you how to be heard in a way that doesn't also harm.

SHAPIRO: Wisconsin state Senator Lena Taylor joined us from Milwaukee Public Radio. Senator Taylor, thanks so much.

TAYLOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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