- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 24

The outrageous murder of another Milwaukee child, Justin Evans

“He was energetic. He was full of joy, positive energy,” Dakota Jones said of her nephew Justin Evans Jr. “He was an innocent kid.” He loved to read and dance. He was a great big brother to two younger siblings. He was 6.

Justin was shot and killed in his grandmother’s yard Saturday evening as he was about to leave on a fishing trip with his stepfather. No family should have to go through what Justin’s family is going through right now.

But the blind, callous violence that took Justin’s life is all too frequent in some Milwaukee neighborhoods. The gun violence that ended his life before it even had a chance to begin is far too frequent across the United States. The disregard for the value of human life is far too common across society.

Sunday afternoon, dozens of community activists, city leaders and friends and family gathered to mourn the loss of Justin and call for an end to gun violence in Milwaukee. Their pain and loss punctuated the call, which should echo throughout the region.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told the mourners that faith and community leaders to join together to help curb gun violence. Ald. Ashanti Hamilton said people in neighborhoods across the city will need to unite in order to make a difference. Police Chief Edward Flynn described the shooting of Justin as “intolerable” a “devastating loss.”

They’re all right. But we have been here before. Since 2012, 10 children have been killed by gunfire in Milwaukee, Flynn said. In 2014, the city saw the loss of three children 10 or younger in seven months.

Sierra Guyton, 10, was playing on a school playground when she was hit by a bullet in May. Laylah Petersen, 5, was sitting on her grandfather’s lap when she was struck by bullets from outside the house. Bill Thao was standing on a stool near a table with other children and adults when the home he was visiting was riddled by dozens of bullets. And Justin was about to go fishing. These are not dangerous activities; they’re the normal activities of children leading normal lives.

And while Justin is the city’s youngest homicide victim this year, he is one of four under 17. And in the week leading up to Justin’s murder, two girls, ages 7 and 9, were wounded in a shooting that also injured two men.

We can debate why the callous disregard for life. We can debate the fact that there are too many guns in the hands of the wrong people. We can debate police department strategy. We can debate why this is happening in too many communities across the country. We can debate how we address poverty and joblessness and hopelessness, because they are all factors in the violence. And we can mourn the loss of innocents.

We should do all those things. But we also need outrage. We need outrage from citizens and leaders. We need to be unified in our belief that such violence won’t be tolerated, as Barrett and Hamilton said. We need neighbors to be watchful and to step up and testify against the violent ones in their communities; we need police and the courts to bring the culprits to justice.

We need the courage to end this.


The Journal Times of Racine, July 23

Restore funding to help homeless veterans

It bears repeating that we owe a debt of gratitude to our veterans. They put themselves in harm’s way for us, and they return from the battlefield with wounds both seen and unseen.

Repayment of that debt includes treatment for those wounds, and greater assistance when their experience in uniform, or memories of their experience, leads to difficulty back home.

This includes the issue of homelessness among veterans. Which is why the Southern Center’s recent loss of funding to house homeless veterans is so disappointing, and unacceptable.

The state Department of Veterans Affairs announced it lost federal grants for its Veteran Housing and Recovery Program at the Union Grove and King veterans homes. The Racine County program serves 28 people at the Southern Wisconsin Center campus, 21425 Spring St., Dover.

“Homelessness, unemployment, addiction and suicide statistics among veterans are much higher than the general public. This is a population that needs and has earned our help,” said state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, who served in the Army Reserve from 1965-71. “We should be doing all that we can to help them get back on their feet. This cut in federal funding is just unbelievable.”

Federal funding for the Dover facility, known as Cottage 16, is due to end in September. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, plans to write a letter to the state’s congressional delegation urging the federal government to reconsider the funding cut, Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said.

In a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin released Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who served in the Marine Corps, said they support efforts to modernize VA programming. But they want more information about why facilities in Dover and King lost the grant and how they can compete for grants in the future.

“Given the critical need for the services these particular facilities provide to at-risk and homeless veterans, we are seeking additional information to better understand why the homes at Union Grove and King did not qualify for this federal funding for the first time since 1995 and 1997, respectively,” according to the letter.

We’d like to see those questions answered, too. Better still, we’d like to see the funding restored.

We applaud the work of Jeff Gustin, co-founder and director of Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, and the other members of his group. Veterans Outreach has been at work since last year building tiny houses for homeless veterans. Fifteen are planned to be completed before the winter at the Veterans Outreach headquarters, 1624 Yout St., Racine.

With news of services ending at the Southern Center, the effort to finish the homes has intensified, Gustin said.

“Even with that facility up and running, there was a still homeless veteran problem,” Gustin said. “Now with that facility closing, it’s not going to be good.”

Veterans Outreach is a wonderful example of veterans helping veterans, specifically in addressing the issue of homelessness among veterans. But the debt of gratitude is owed by all of us.

We all owe it to the most vulnerable among our veterans to see that their needs are being met.


Wisconsin State Journal, July 26

Madison’s roadside panhandling law has been a success

It worked.

Madison’s law against panhandling along the terraces and medians of the city’s busiest streets has done precisely what it was supposed to do - and now surrounding cities are considering similar bans.

Congratulations to the mayor, City Council members and police who made it happen.

No longer are young drifters distracting drivers who should be watching the road. No longer are panhandlers putting themselves in danger next to heavy, fast-moving traffic.

And no longer are motorists - particularly visitors who aren’t familiar with the city - being intimidated by people looming next to their cars at red lights looking for money. Madison wants to be a welcoming place that impresses visitors with its beauty and friendly vibe. Beggars holding cardboard signs for cash didn’t convey that message.

The city’s roadside panhandling law, which cleared the City Council on a 12-8 vote in February, has improved traffic flow, safety and the look and feel of the city since it went into effect three months ago. Unlike last summer, when rough-looking people crowded major intersections by the city’s malls and main thoroughfares, this summer’s roadside terraces are clear.

The city’s law prohibits people from entering a road to approach an operating car on about 100 of the city’s busiest roads, while limiting people on medians to two consecutive opportunities to cross a street. It also applies to the first 200 feet of any road with a median that intersects one of the streets named in the law.

Madison police say they warned panhandlers along roads after the rule went into effect, and most people cleared the intersections. Only a few people who kept going back to beg for money were cited. First-time violators face a $92.50 fine.

“We really aren’t seeing the problem anymore,” city police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Tuesday.

Critics had claimed city officials were callous and violating people’s rights with the ordinance. But panhandlers can still operate elsewhere in the city. They just can’t disrupt motor vehicle traffic. And the prohibition along highways applies to everyone, including advertisers and campaigners.

Our generous community offers much better alternatives to improving difficult lives than begging along roads. And as the State Journal series “Homeless in Madison - A City Challenged” showed last year, only a tiny fraction of the 2,400 homeless people in Madison are begging on streets in public view. The much bigger issue is hidden, with half of the homeless being children whose parents need help finding work and stable housing.

Our community still needs a homeless day shelter, which is expected to open this fall. It needs more affordable housing.

What it didn’t need were people begging for money at the busiest intersections. Credit Mayor Paul Soglin, the council and police for solving this problem.

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