Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality
In his commentary on May 24, 2018, “Bucks guard Sterling Brown is lucky he wasn’t killed by Milwaukee Police,” Martenzie Johnson casually observes that “Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in America, is one of the worst cities for black Americans, economically, the worst city for African-American children to grow up in and is home to the zip code with the highest incarceration rate in the country.”
I moved to Milwaukee in 1984 to become a Marquette Lawyer. I took my first law school exam on my 30th birthday – Torts by Professor James Ghiardi. In May of 1987, like every Marquette lawyer graduating before me and after me, I took the attorney’s oath. I swore to “support the Constitution of the United States,” the one ordained and established in order to “form a more perfect Union.” I never left Milwaukee and I am proud to say I am from Milwaukee. Yet I am at a complete loss of words to describe how it is that we, my law school and my fellow Marquette lawyers, go about our busy daily lives virtually unconscious of living in “one of the most segregated cities in America.” If you believe you can frame the types of questions that, if answered properly and acted on, will help us deconstruct our segregated Milwaukee, then I strongly encourage you to write and to weigh in now.
In October 2015, I was involved in a three week medical malpractice trial in Outagamie County. Judge Mark McGinnis was presiding, who is one of the best trial judges currently on the bench. I came home Friday to rest and prepare for the final week of trial. A little after 1 am on October 31, 2015 the incessant ring of the telephone pulled me from a deep slumber. The voice of a woman said, “Mr. Thomsen, we tried for 45 minutes, but we couldn’t save your son.” My wife, Grace, sitting up asks: “What did they say?” “He’s gone.” “Noooooo…” turned into a mourning howl. It is unforgettable. And so it is that in one instant the eye of a category 5 hurricane shreds your bed, your son’s mother, your wife, his sister, his fiancé, his daughter, his uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, friends — my life and theirs too. Judge McGinnis and defense counsel all agreed to a mistrial if I asked for one. I returned to finish the trial. The case had progressed and in a way that could not have been replicated. The lawyer’s oath is a demanding one.
Yet somehow in the eye of the hurricane you can find love: the love of my son’s fiancé, of my now daughter-in-law Sydney, and my granddaughter, Sienna. They are proudly biracial. Sydney is considering law school. I suggested that she become a Marquette Lawyer. She said “no” because Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are too segregated. The truth hurts so much.