I’m not sure what to make of this rash of spring shootings, including three homicides since mid-April.
In a way, it all seems so familiar. Like last year, police are talking in dire terms about a spike in the number of shots-fired incidents as the weather warms. Like last year, police are saying many of the incidents appear to involve gang members.
Unlike last year, police and Mayor Paul Soglin seem happy to enable the presumption some longtime Madisonians are all too ready to make: That the violence can be blamed on people who didn’t grow up in Madison and just happen to have skin that is darker than the skin of the vast majority of people who did grow up in Madison.
I was expecting to get some blowback for my Sunday column, in which I challenged Soglin’s statements about the recent violence being anunwanted import from big, bad Chicago, which has a gun-violence problem that is hundreds of times worse than Madison’s.
Still, I was surprised at the level of vitriol folks can muster when you point out that most of the people police believe are connected to Madison’s recent violence appear to have lived in Madison for a long time.
The blame-Chicago narrative was not the one officials put forward last yeararound this time when there was a similar spike in shootings.
Then, police put together a map showing 33 incidents of shots fired in Madison from April 1 to May 14, and the talk from city officials about who was to blame was decidedly Madison-centric.
In a May 22, 2015, news conference, police Chief Mike Koval said the city’s gang unit “has probably been critical, to the point of seminal” in the investigation of that spring’s shootings.
And who were the gangs? Well, two and a half months earlier, a Madison police officer and former gang unit member told this newspaper: “These are kids whose parents grew up here, and kids who have gone to school in Madison all their lives. ... This is a Madison home-grown issue.”
This year’s map shows 23 shooting incidents in the Madison area between April 1 and May 11, but last week Soglin — with Koval’s backing — strongly suggested people from Chicago were to blame.
When a Dane County sheriff’s deputy said more or less the same thing about the 2015 shootings — albeit in much coarser terms — he was deemed a bigot and forced to retire. Perhaps when Soglin blows the same dog whistle, it doesn’t prick quite as many ears.
Police are taking the same tack this year to try to stem the violence as they did last year.
“It is all hands on deck for the entire department right now,” police spokesman Joel DeSpain said.
Hopefully, it will work, like DeSpain said it worked last year.
Hopefully, all the factually suspect talk about Chicago’s bad influence will end, too.
Because you know who else is from Chicago? Soglin, for one. Michael Johnson, the black CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County and all-around decent citizen, for another. I spent nearly a decade working, living or going to school there myself.
Call me a pox on Madison if you like. But Soglin and Johnson are undoubtedly only two of the many Chicago ex-pats who have made Madison better.