Violent crime in Milwaukee is racially unequal. Last year, a black Milwaukee resident was eight times as likely as a white resident to be shot and killed, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Criminologists long have focused on individual choices and risk factors, such as illegally carrying a gun or selling drugs, when it came to explaining who gets shot and why, but a growing body of research is showing systemic factors may matter more. When public health experts wanted to figure out how violent crime is linked with structural racism, they looked at decades-old housing maps. The results were published last year in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
The maps, created by the federal government in the 1930s, explicitly used race to determine creditworthiness and investment risk within neighborhoods. Areas deemed “unworthy of economic investment by virtue of the races, ethnicities, and religions of their residents” were shaded red, the study said. The researchers examined Philadelphia and found those redlined areas today are more likely to be the places where violence is most common. In Milwaukee, the same pattern appears. Of the present-day census tracts that fall mostly within the old red boundary, 36 percent of residents’ incomes are below the poverty line, nine percentage points worse than the citywide poverty rate of 27 percent. From 2014 to 2018, the homicide rate in these neighborhoods was 13% worse than the number for the city as a whole, a Journal Sentinel analysis found. The nonfatal shooting rate was 28 percent worse than the citywide average.