Milwaukee’s radio-talking wing-nuts are off and running this week with race-baiting squawking about the supposed “crisis” at Mayfair Mall. When it comes to Mayfair – which bears the distinction of not only being the Milwaukee area’s best and most popular shopping center, but also its most integrated -- every little incident in the mall or even in the restrooms is played up as some sort of precursor to the Second Death of Northridge.
Jeff Wagner – the long-failed AG wannabe who currently serves as Charlie Sykes’ second(-rate) banana on WTMJ – got the ball rolling in his show on Saturday, a day usually reserved as a day off for the wing-nutty, while their stations are taken over by shows about mutual funds, gardening, computer repair and sports (lest the casual weekend listener discover the poison that the stations are usually up to). Wagner declared Mayfair "the Baghdad of Wauwatosa”. To Wagner and others determined to stir up fear and division in any potentially successful integrated situation, every minor incident at a bus stop is “near-riot”, and teenagers “brandish” firearms.
But leave it to Mark Belling to make the most of the conflict, going off on a racist rant on Monday. Proud to insert fear and hate into any discussion, Belling claimed that, because of issues that are “all about race”, Mayfair was in “crisis”. He went so far as to predict that a murder would take place at Mayfair within the next six months (I mean, we know how "they" are, don't we?), and that, after that, Mayfair patronage would fall by 40 percent. Waiving the racist ghosts of shopping centers past, Belling predicted Mayfair would go the way of not only Northridge, but Capitol Court.
He also brought the specter of the inner city to Tosa, claiming that 108th and North was becoming 27th and North. He reveled in racial code words and fears, claiming that young black people in the mall run in “packs”, violate the personal space of uncomfortable white people on purpose and flash gang signs. He said, without any evidence whatsoever (and no interest in the facts, anyway), that the same “trouble-makers” spending time at Mayfair in the winter were the ones cruising Sherman Boulevard in the summer. “The problems of the inner city are moving to Mayfair,” he declared, showing not only his willing ignorance of what goes on in Mayfair but also the gravity of the much more serious problems facing residents of the inner city.
Belling excoriated the management of Mayfair for saying everything was under control, saying that they wouldn’t hesitate to do something if white kids were the problem (without saying how would that be). He commanded that the multi-plex movie theater there be closed or, at least, restricted to those over 18. Now, there’s a good idea: Cancel all the nice kids movies that my son and I have watched happily there over the years and make more screens available for Saw II, or whatever. He also demanded that the mall exclude everyone under 18 who is there without their parents, like that could be determined and enforced.
I don’t know how any of this keeps young black people out of the mall, which Belling blatantly claimed was the real problem. The fact is that people like Belling and the people he wants to work into a racist lather are simply not happy that there is anywhere they want to go that is also frequented by African-Americans. More tiresome than even Belling himself were his callers, talking about how they won’t go to Mayfair anymore and how they fear for their children’s safety. One particular caller was given wide berth to talk about how all those inconvenient city residents were ruining not only Mayfair, but everything all up and down Highway 100. All people like that need are enablers like Belling and the other poison wing-nuts, who will go out of their way to validate their prejudices and to confirm their head-in-the-sand, us-against-them mentality.
As I listened to Belling's rant late Monday afternoon, I decided to drive out to Mayfair to see what the Baghdad of Wauwatosa really looks like. I entered at Marshall Field…uh, Macy’s and walked all the way down to Boston…yeah, still Boston Store along the first floor of high-end retailers. No problems there, as a somewhat diverse population – those who could afford it, anyway – attended to their needs and wants.
But if you have listened to the poison noise about Mayfair at all, you know the “problem” is on the second floor, where some of the stores are aimed at a younger demographic. Up there, there were indeed younger shoppers white and, yes, some African-Americans. None of them were trouble, all seemed to be doing more shopping than hanging and gang-signing. The only crimes I saw were of the fashion variety – there were these two young black guys walking proudly in pastel-colored pattern jackets and matching baseball hats that were just too much.
Whatever their motivation and degree of racist fear-mongering, the local wing-nuts always proclaim their love of Mayfair and concern for its future. But the agenda of Belling and the others has nothing to do with what’s really best for Mayfair or for Milwaukee. They have decided they must pander to the worst instincts of their angry-white-male audience to survive. And if they need to stir up racial hate and fear to do it, they are all too willing to do it.
If they really were so concerned about Mayfair, the best thing they could do is shut the hell up, stop making mountains out of molehills and support the legitimate efforts of Mayfair management and Tosa authorities to adjust to whatever problems there might be. Like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce running down Wisconsin businesses in an election year, Belling and his ilk would rather destroy than build. In fact, destroy is all they do.