AP/Gerald Herbert

17-year-old Lew Blank researched race and housing in his state and found some disturbing patterns.

17-year-old Lew Blank was fiddling around with the Weldon Cooper Center’s Racial Dot Map when he discovered something disturbing about Wisconsin, where he lives: More than half of the African-American neighborhoods in the state are actually jails. Not only that, but the rest of the black neighborhoods across the state are either apartment complexes, Section 8 housing, or homeless shelters—the lone exception being a working-middle class section of Milwaukee.

Sharing this info on the Young, Gifted, and Black Coalition’s blog, Blank explains that he used the Racial Dot Map to identify where predominantly black neighborhoods—defined as “a certain area where the majority of residents are African Americans”—are located throughout the state. There are 56 of them, 31 of which are either jails or prisons. There are 15 cities where the only black neighborhood is a jail. The city of Winnebago claims it has an African-American population of more than 19 percent, but most, if not all, of that black population is located among one of four correctional facilities there. It’s perhaps no wonder that Wisconsin perennially comes up as the worst place for African Americans to live in the country.

Below are a few maps from Blank’s Wisconsin collection—blue dots represent white residents, yellow dots are for Latinos, and green dots are for African Americans:

(Lew Blank)

In Madison, the circled “J” area is the location of the city’s largest jail. Every other area circled is Section 8 housing, save for two apartment complexes (“D” and “G”) and two homeless shelters (“I” and “K”). Read more from Blank about Madison's racial disparities here.

(Lew Blank)

The large circled area of Milwaukee marked with an “A” is the lone black neighborhood in the state of Wisconsin that is not a prison or mostly low-income housing. That said, there are two areas within that large circle, and one area adjacent to it that are correctional facilities. Another predominantly black area way at the southern tip of the city (“E”) is also a jail.

(Lew Blank)

Three of the seven “black neighborhoods” in Racine are actually correctional facilities: The section circled by “B” contains two jails.

These disparities are not without consequence. Cities and legislative districts with mostly white populations are able to draw down extra federal resources based on their incarcerated minority populations through a sketchy practice called “prison gerrymandering.”

But Blank’s own conclusions about his map findings stand on their own:

Despite this terrible epidemic, it seems that whenever people try to speak out against it, they are met with backlash and apathy. Whenever people failed by a racially disparate economic system, a business-as-usual governmental system, and a rooted-in-slavery police system demand much-needed, life-or-death systemic changes by marching in the streets and chanting "Black Lives Matter," they are somehow met with disdain for simply fighting for their freedom and their right to self-determination.

Perhaps instead of not listening to the experiences of Wisconsin's and the nation's Black [communities], we should lend our ears to their demands.

This kid is woke.

About the Author

Brentin Mock
Brentin Mock

Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.

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