Milwaukee, Nov 21, 2016 (AFP) -On North Avenue, young black men with nothing to do wander past boarded-up buildings and dilapidated shops. It is a sad, desolate landscape.
They and other African Americans in Milwaukee contributed to Hillary Clinton’s crushing defeat in the presidential election: not only did they not vote for her, as had been expected, some even backed Donald Trump.
Wisconsin’s largest city is also America’s most racially segregated one, according to a study based on the 2010 census.
And Wisconsin served up one of the biggest surprises of an election day that shocked America and the world: no one thought the midwestern state would fall to the Republican billionaire.
Clinton was so sure of victory she did not even bother to campaign here after the Democratic primaries, instead sending her daughter Chelsea or her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
“She probably thought she had Wisconsin wrapped up,” said Ronald Roberts, a 67 year old retiree, as he left a shop called Bill the Butcher. Its aging sign is missing the R.
“You can’t take the voters for granted because they’ll stay home,” said Roberts, who used to work as an auto mechanic.
That is just what happened here, according to exit polls taken on November 8. Stop anyone in this part of town, where there is not a white person in sight, and they will tell you as much.
“I feel that she is no better than Trump. That’s why I didn’t vote,” said Brittany Mays, a young woman who works in a beauty salon.
Around her decay abounds: empty housing developments or boarded up homes symbolizing the economic woes of families that fell on very hard times.
Barack Obama had won over the state’s traditionally Democratic electorate in 2008 and 2012, and Clinton had been banking on a strong turnout here among African Americans as she campaigned with the blessing of the nation’s first black president.
But in Milwaukee, turnout slumped the most in poor, black areas of the state, compared to wealthier — whiter — areas.
Many black people here were left out of the economic recovery that Wisconsin enjoyed after the Great Recession.
“Now you have got a lot people walking around here with no job. There is not a lot of money circulating,” said Roberts.
In Milwaukee, practically all of the white people have moved to the suburbs, and Trump campaigned there, of course.
Black residents moved here from the south in the 1960s, just as the city’s manufacturing base was starting to decline. The settled in the north of the inner city, and Hispanics set up in the south.
Over time, little by little, the racial divide has deepened. These days the unemployment rate among black people is three times that of whites. African Americans hold the national record in school drop-outs.
In Milwaukee County, more than 50 percent of black people aged 30 to 40 have spent time in jail, meaning they are barred from voting for a while.
What is more, a recent law forces people to show a photo ID in order to vote. Advocacy groups argue that this was designed to limit minority turnout in the presidential election.
“In some case, voters were wrongly turned away,” said Andrea Kaminski, who runs the Wisconsin chapter of the League of Women Voters, which deployed 250 observers on Election Day.
“You cannot count the number of people who did not even try to vote because of the voter ID law. But that’s probably a much bigger number than the people who were actually turned away,” Kaminski said.
“I do know a few people who did not have ID or were restricted to vote and they feel like it was unfair to them,” said Derricka Wesley, 24, who works at a Walmart store.
Hard hit by drug abuse, violence, a collapse in real estate prices and unemployment, many people in black neighborhoods of Milwaukee have simply lost hope, said LaTonya Johnson, a black local elected official.
“You see this dismal picture where people aren’t really seeing the correlation between actually casting their ballot and improving their living conditions,” Johnson said.
She argued that Trump’s relentless campaign rhetoric about corruption discouraged people from voting.
“Trump was talking about all the corruption in politics and the rigged voting. So you got a lot of people who just really felt like their vote wasn’t going to matter,” said Johnson.
Some black voters reasoned themselves into backing the real estate tycoon with no experience in government.
“I voted for Trump because I believe he can create jobs. Period,” said Dennis Johnson, a 39-year-old truck driver.
“He said, ‘Hey, what have you got to lose?’ To me, it just made perfect sense,” said Johnson.
He added: “Now, listen, this country will survive four years of Trump. We survived eight years of Obama and eight years of Bush.”