Valedictory essay

It feels a little crazy to even be talking about the fact that I’ll be graduating in a week or so. These past five to six years have been full of ups and downs, but as surreal as it feels, it’s almost a reality. When I was coming out of high school, the only thing that really interested me was crime and learning about the law. My mom is a teacher and has always preached that school should come first over everything. When I was in high school I had the exact opposite mindset, and I wanted to attend a two year school before I went to a university. That resulted in a lot of arguments and my argument always was that I truly didn’t know what I wanted to do yet.

Well, my mom had the last laugh, and I ended up going to UW-Whitewater for my first year. During that first year, I struggled heavily, still not really in the right mindset and was too distracted by things that didn’t really need attention. In other words, I didn’t have my priorities
straight. After that first year I transferred to UW-Milwaukee and switched my major to social work. I was living at home and working part-time as well, which didn’t go too well either. I basically failed out and honestly never thought I’d even go back to college. I started to look for
other options and stumbled upon UW-Rock County and enrolled in a couple classes online and one in person to try and get back on my feet. At this point my mom felt somewhat guilty because she realized maybe I wasn’t as ready as she thought I was.

However, when I got to UW-Rock County, everything started to change. I was at a new college alone with none of my friends and that forced me to prioritize school and only school. I had this one professor who was so engaged in the material he taught and his mindset really motivated me to try and put forth more effort. Eventually I got my two-year degree from there and transferred back to UW-Whitewater. I ended up having Dr. Zukas in my first semester back and everything just kind of made sense to commit to journalism. I’ve always been into reading articles and gathering information on my own, and it seemed very interesting. I’ve always been very skeptical about the things I read and with the world in general, so this path is very fitting.

I think these past two years, even on top of covid have really changed me as a person. I feel I’m a lot more aware of everything around me. I’m extremely knowledgeable on finding information and I feel like I’m a better person which makes me feel very good. The most
important thing I’ve learned regarding journalism is the concept of ethics. That’s a broad term,
but journalism and ethics go hand in hand. Dr. Wachanga’s media ethics class I think will be the class I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. I’ve always had this odd feeling that news outlets
and our own government have a tendency to fabricate things or even lie to us. His course educated me on things like this, in a way I would’ve never experienced if I never declared for this major. I feel like Wachanga is such a perfect person to teach that course because he isn’t
from here originally. The masses of people don’t want to cross that psychological barrier that we can be fed lies and have been for some time. Since Wachanga isn’t from here, it’s easy for him to preach this ideology because he hasn’t been spoon fed like most of us have by most news outlets and things of that nature. I will always value ethics and I’d say that’s my biggest/most important takeaway from school here.

Another takeaway that still blows my mind everyday, is how shady and biased journalism/reporting can be. It’s unreal to me how a profession that should pride itself on ethics, we see so often people visibly not following the code of ethics in their reporting. I don’t know if it comes down to the publications or the journalists individually, but there are so many examples I’ve found (especially within politics) of people inserting their own opinions into their writing which should never be done. I feel our job as writers is to educate people and then allow them to
form their own opinions, but it seems that isn’t really the case even though it should be.

I wouldn’t say the reality of college was different because I really didn’t know what to expect. If I could go back I guess I would say I wish I started with journalism from the start, but other than that I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made, and I’m extremely excited to see what the future has in store.

Crime, Coronavirus and Law enforcement in milwaukee

Crime, Coronavirus and Law Enforcement in Milwaukee 

It’s fair to assume that due to the pandemic and people being forced to stay in their homes, this would somewhat decrease the overall crime rate, but in reality, the trend has been the exact opposite. There has been an increase in homicides, civil unrest and drug related crime since the pandemic began.

“It’s unfortunately a perfect storm,” said Terri deRoon-Cassini, a trauma and health psychologist at Froedtert Hospital. “I think one of the biggest challenges we are faced with right now is the overlay of these two epidemics. They’re feeding each other.”

One of the biggest factors in the consistent increase of drug related crime is fentanyl. The drug problem in Milwaukee continues to be a massive issue, and has slid somewhat under the radar due to the protests, pandemic and homicides.

“The pandemic has made the issue worse because it’s increased social isolation, caused people to lose their jobs, which causes added stress,” said Reporter Edgar Mendez from Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. “Stress and isolation, those are triggers for drug use so people that maybe they were trying to quit went back to drug use and then people already using drugs, it accelerated their drug use.”

“Although people might be staying home, they’re still going out and getting their drugs,” said Luke Warnke, Forensic Investigator at Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Fentanyl is a lot cheaper than heroin and when compounded with other substances it’s actually not classified as a schedule one or two drug in court. Most of the deaths they’ve seen haven’t come from fentanyl by itself, but loads of them have been some sort of compound with fentanyl in it. 

“If you change a compound in fentanyl, the drug isn’t classified as a schedule one or two drug. If you’re a producer of this and mix in different compounds and get taken to court, there’s some leverage in the fact that it’s not fentanyl by itself. An attorney will argue that this drug isn’t listed in the schedule, and they’re going to be right,” said Warnke. 

It’s in the process of being classified as a schedule one or two drug regardless of the compounds it’s mixed with, but for now this continues to be a problem with no sign of the rates slowing down. 

“Our caseload has continued to go up. Last year was a record homicide year and drug related deaths for Milwaukee County, and the numbers are on pace again this year” said Warnke. 

Domestic violence and homicide rates are also at an all time high since the pandemic began, and both continue to rise at alarming rates. Throughout the city of Milwaukee, these patterns and trends remain steady, and Black men continue to be disproportionately victimized. 

In January, February and March of 2020, Milwaukee averaged about 11 homicides and 46 nonfatal shootings per month, according to data from the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission. That compares to nine homicides and about 49 nonfatal shootings monthly so far in 2021, according to data from the Milwaukee Police Department.

In the past two years, the average homicide rate has gone up more than three per month since 2016-2019. 

When looking at why these homicides are occurring, roughly 23% of all homicides in Milwaukee have been related to intimate partner-related or domestic violence since the pandemic began. 

“People haven’t been able to leave their homes, which is putting many on edge,” said Warnke. “These are toxic environments where many aren’t afraid to use their firearms, and when you put those things together, you see why there have been more and more disputes on a day to day basis.”

“We’ve all been encouraged or instructed to be at home as much as possible, and for many, that’s not a safer place,” said Milwaukee County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern.

“The hardest-hit areas of the city for both homicides and nonfatal shootings remain highly disadvantaged ones,” said Constance Kostelac, director of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission.

In many of these disadvantaged areas, there is a surplus of illegally obtained firearms, which is another issue prevalent in Milwaukee. Many detectives have noted that there has been a rise in disputes that escalate due to people’s willingness to use them without remorse. 

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, officers seized more than 2,600 firearms so far this year, up 23% compared with the same time last year. 

“As more people go armed, the chance for petty disputes to end in lethal violence rises,” said Milwaukee Police Capt. Thomas Casper, who leads the homicide division.

Law enforcement has also been impacted by quarantine restrictions, forcing police to respond to fewer incidents and less cases being cleared. 

“The pandemic forced violence prevention programs and other social service agencies to retool their approach. Many switched to virtual formats or paused services,” said Lovern.

Activists like Tory Lowe, who helps homicide victims’ families raise money for funerals and push for justice, have also had to slow their line of work. 

“Now that COVID-19 is out here, a lot of these people are not in the streets that would normally be out here, like myself,” Lowe said. He added that he’s only provided assistance in about 20 cases this year, where typically he’d be up to 60 to 70 by now.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Milwaukee has had a historically low homicide clearance rate since the pandemic, currently at 54 percent instead of its usual 75 percent or higher range in recent years. Fewer cases being solved can lead to more violence.”

The Journal Sentinel is tracking homicides and the rate at which charges are filed in Milwaukee to memorialize the victims and better understand deadly violence.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel spent six months gathering and analyzing data from police, prosecutors and the court system, tracking homicides in Milwaukee from the time they occurred through the court process. The analysis focused on 594 homicides that occurred from 2014 to 2018. Here’s what it found: 

  • In 62 percent of cases, either someone was arrested in connection with the homicide or the main suspect died, usually of suicide.
  • In 58 percent, someone was charged with a crime. Most of those charges, about 64 percent, were filed within two weeks of when the homicide occurred.

This massive downward trend to cases not being cleared compared to 2014-2018, can be attributed to the limitations caused by the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

“With COVID, the justice system isn’t hitting on all cylinders,” Casper said. “That revolving door is just spinning, putting these people right back onto the street.”

“This is all happening at a time when multiple forces — all inter-related —are destroying any semblance of normalcy: the coronavirus pandemic; the economic downturn; the heightened levels of racial tension, particularly involving police; and several bouts of civil unrest,” Sophie Carson of the Journal Sentinel reported. 

If someone that gets away with a murder, that damages the trust between a community and the police department. It’s essentially a cycle that is feeding itself; the trust the community has in law enforcement continues to decline, which leads to more witnesses holding back and allows for more crime to occur. 

When you add this all of this on top of the recent protests on the back of Geogre’s Floyd’s death, it’s left the community with having little to no faith in Milwaukee’s law enforcement.

While many officers agree with the Black Lives Matter movement, and sympathize with everything in relation to it, they’re often caught in this grey area between it all. 

“Our way of life is built off of what’s reasonable, and that’s how I operate in those grey areas of the law, which is how it should be,” said an officer identified as J.

Since these protests started and have continued to take place, many officers have noticed a change in the public’s attitudes towards them, and some may argue rightfully so. There’s a  growing notion of an “anti-police rhetoric” that is very prevalent in Milwaukee County. 

Regardless of one’s opinion on either side is beside the point. Numerous officers that agree with what the protests and movements represent, a lot of people are going about it wrongly; which takes the focus away from what the movements should be about, and affects an officer’s ability to perform.  

There is a rise in people getting extremely comfortable with trying to catch officers that are acting out of line electronically. There are countless examples of videos and clips being taken out of context purposefully, which is a recurring theme in this day and age regardless of the scenario. 

People are made aware of every single thing that happens nowadays due to social media. If there is an incident that may arise or escalate, it’s the norm for one to whip out their phone and record it. 

“I’ve noticed in the past year that there’s been a huge climb in individuals shoving phones in my face, which doesn’t bother me because I’m recorded all the time regardless. What bothers me is people trying to antagonize us simply for doing our job. We’re humans too and we all have boiling points, and nowadays, more and more people are trying to normalize arguing and attempting to antagonize officers, which is counterproductive for everyone and gets us all nowhere,” said Officer J.

Should there be a line that gets drawn?  It is one’s right to do what they please with electronics, but if there isn’t a line that gets drawn, how far will this continue to go, and what will it lead to?

Times are changing and due to this changing rhetoric, many that work in law enforcement have been choosing to keep their identities hidden, regardless of the topic. 

“It goes to show you that we fear attaching our names to statements because we don’t know how it will be interpreted; even if it’s something we shouldn’t be scared to say,” said another officer who wishes to remain anonymous. 

People in law enforcement are held to a higher standard (rightfully so), but the question many are asking is, where (or what) is the professional standard for the average citizen? 

When law enforcement has to deal with the exterior distractions of people going out of their way to try and antagonize them, it impacts their ability to do their job. They’re limited on time and cases they can respond to, so when you have people going out of their way to essentially troll them, it’s understandable why officers deem that counterproductive. 

It’s not something that can be measured by statistics, but it’s a fair question to ask––Is this new trend playing a factor and impacting Milwaukee’s crime rate? 

On the flip side, there are people who truly feel that police aren’t being held accountable and seek more justice and accountability from the task force to simply be better at their job. 

There is a common skepticism of legal cynicism taking place within Milwaukee’s law enforcement and a belief that law enforcement uses the pandemic as a “cop-out.” 

Many attribute the rise in unsolved homicides cases and the steady increase in Milwaukee’s crime rates to this, and don’t accept “the pandemic” as a valid excuse or reason.

Black citizens continue to be academically, financially and systematically oppressed, and the protests and civil unrest goes deeper than most realize. 

Psychologist Josh, a Milwaukee resident who actively participated in many of these protests said, “We are people that are a reaction of our own past experiences, and those who came before us. Frustration, desperation, you name it, we’ve felt and experienced it to the highest degree. We just want them (law enforcement) to do better.”

In terms of a plan moving forward to help combat crime rates and rebuilding the relationship between the community and law enforcement, it’s at a bit of a stalemate at this point in time. 

“Our department is distracted with politics, inquiries, demonstrations, everything you can imagine except serving the neighborhoods we come to work to serve,” Inspector Terrance Gordon said. “I grew up during the crack wars in Milwaukee, but there is a wildness out there that I have not experienced in my city before. I really think that if the city got back to doing what we’re elected and appointed to do, we could get a handle on this. I don’t think we need a new strategy. I just think we need time to do our jobs.”

County Board story

Jefferson County Board meet to discuss a number of different topics.

Beginning in July of this year, Crawfish Solar, LLC plans to develop, construct and operate an up to 75 megawatt solar photovoltaic electrical generating facility with necessary associated facilities such as underground power collection lines, access roads, operating and maintenance facilities, electrical substations and overhead transmission line connections in Jefferson County, which includes Jefferson Township. 

Crawfish River will document pre-construction conditions of all anticipated road crossings and anticipated impact on traffic during construction, which include, County Road G, County Road J, Highway 89, and Highway 18. 

Crawfish River and the Local Governments agree to communicate and cooperate in good faith concerning the safe construction and operation of the project and preventing or correcting any adverse conditions that may be created by the project. 

Based on the Wisconsin Utility Shared Revenue Program, the parties estimate the project will generate approximately $300,000 annually over its useful life in general, unrestricted aid that may be used for any activity approved by the local governing body.  

The facility will be monitored and looked at regularly by Crawfish Solar to ensure it remains efficient. For now, Crawfish River’s full time operations team will be the Project contact. If there are any complaints or concerns after construction is completed, they should be submitted through the project website and the Local Governments will be provided with the operation team’s contact information. 

The Badger State Solar site application was submitted to the Commission on May 13, 2019. The proposed construction schedule for this project is to begin in July of 2021, and construction is projected to be completed in November of 2022.

Another resolution discussed was renovation of the courthouse. There has been an increasing failure rate related to mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. The Courthouse also doesn’t meet current building codes, and provide for basic life/safety measures for the Ameicaans with Disabilities Act requirements. 

The Courthouse, including the Sheriff’s office and jail are most in need of renovations and upgrades. In February, a joint meeting of the Executive, Finance and Building & Grounds Committees, determined it was appropriate to continue to evaluate the Courthouse renovation project, and also that additional design services were needed to finalize the scope of the project. 

In October of 2020, a report that included a mechanical, electrical, plumbing systems analysis and new space configuration to include three primary additions to the Courthouse was presented to the County Board. The total project cost at that time was estimated at $33 million with $17 million to replace the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

This Resolution approves the on-going efforts to review and further define the scope of the Courthouse Facility renovation project and provide funding authorization for continued design work by amending the existing contract with Potter Lawson to provide additional services not to  exceed $150,000, for which funding has been designated in the 2021 budget. 

There was a claim that was filed against Jefferson County by resident John Ebbot. 

  • His mailbox was allegedly dismantled by a snowplow operator
  • Seeked to claim $250 for damages and time it will take him to repair it
  • The claim was denied and if Ebbot wants to continue to try and seek compensation, he can do so by talking to insurance if he feels it’s necessary. 

The month of April was proclaimed to be Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

  • Communities are stronger when all citizens become aware of child maltreatment  prevention and become involved in supporting parents to raise their children in a safe and nurturing environment.

The Lake Mills High School Girls basketball team also made it in the agenda for the meeting. 

  • The board of supervisors extended their hearty congratulations to the girls for winning the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division three State Basketball Championship. 

Common Council Story

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Whitewater’s Arts Alliance is still up and running. Some changes were implemented in regards to when the gallery was open and how many people were allowed in the building at a time. The galleries were limited to 10 people at a time and were only
open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They also still went ahead with their members exhibit which took place virtually in November. Although Covid limited the gallery hours, it increased accessibility in other ways, which was a huge plus.

Vice President Megan Matthews said, “One of our major commitments this year was making sure we didn’t just shut down. There were a lot of organizations that had to, but because of the city’s help they gave us and our artists, we were able to stay open, and I’m so thankful for that.” You can take a look at their youtube content here, and what they have planned for the near future on their website.

The committee also revisited an ordinance which was rejected two years ago in regards to potentially prohibiting and vaping in Whitewater’s city parks. Smoking and vaping rates have been on the rise recently so the topic was discussed again. The Whitewater Parks and Recreation
overwhelmingly wanted this ordinance passed. Points were made that one person smoking won’t affect another who’s fifty plus feet away. This was countered with potential residue still being on park benches, which could potentially lead to youth coming in contact with it. The most
recurring point made was that this isn’t really an enforceable ordinance. Committee member James Allen said, “We’ve beat the horse to death twice now, and I am against smoking. I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes, but what are you gonna do, call the police when somebody’s smoking on you in the park?” The public hasn’t voiced any concern on this subject, and there wasn’t too much that changed from when they discussed it initially. The committee is open to the idea of discussing this in the future again, but nothing will be passed at this time.

The topic of scooters was also discussed in the meeting. Bird, is an electric powered scooter rental service that anyone can use with a credit card and an account.

● The committee discussed briefly what it would mean for the city of Whitewater to bring in these unique scooters, and there’s a lot of public opinion on both sides. There would have to be a minimum of 100 scooters brought in total to the city and obviously this would be a huge deal if it were passed.

● The council determined that this wasn’t something that was going to be decided in this meeting.
● City Manager Cameron Clapper said,
○ “We’d like to bring this back for further consideration, however, we discussed as a staff that we want to make sure we have all concerns resolved internally before something like this comes for a full discussion in action. Another topic discussed by the committee was the fund balance that is available for bonds from 2010.
● The bonds were scheduled to be paid out by 2029, but it was discussed whether or not the current debt should be retired early or not.
● A resolution was reached and the action passed to call the bonds which will save over $60,000 in interest.
On the subject of money, the committee also discussed a budget amendment resolution.
● They have a surplus of money and a resolution was proposed to manage how some of the money is being used.
● Finance Director Steve Hatton said,
○ “Because of good money management, we’re anticipating a general surplus of $205,000.”
● The resolution eventually carried and they agreed to set aside $110,000 to address specific revenue funds. The remaining funds will remain in the unassigned general fund to help improve liquidity and their credit profile.

Feature Story

Senior Anna Boyd of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater women’s soccer team, was the selected recipient of the 2020 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Judy Kruckman Women’s Soccer Scholar-Athlete Award. Boyd has over a 3.9 GPA for the academic year and described even being nominated for the award as “an honor.” 

After finding out she was the recipient of the award, she said, “I’m glad I’m able to honor my teammates, coaches and everyone that’s been a part of it, because it’s a prestigious award, and everyone else is part of the reason I won it as well.”

Last season, Boyd helped UW-Whitewater sweep the WIAC regular season and tournament championships with 29 points, and was also named to the Academic All-District® NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer First Team, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America, and the United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-North/Central Region Second Team. The team finished with a record of 14-6-3 and reached the NCAA Tournament. 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the season which was scheduled for fall, has been canceled entirely. The girls team has been able to practice for the past few months, but nothing has been announced yet by the WIAC in terms of planning to make it up. The best case scenario that the team was given is that there could potentially be a 10 game season in the spring that wouldn’t really count towards anything, but just to make up for the season being called off.

The preparation has been very different than a typical season as you can probably envision. The team wasn’t able to move in until all students did during the first week of September, and once they arrived, it didn’t get any easier due to the pandemic. Boyd said, “for the first two weeks we all had to quarantine and had to turn in two or three negative results before we could even practice. We also had to split into small groups and do individual workouts with the same five or six people for about a month.” They’ve progressed into doing team scrimmages, but practice is all the team can do for the time being. 

Boyd plans to graduate in the spring, and then is planning on student teaching in the fall of 2021. Due to the cancellation of numerous sport seasons, the NCAA has granted everyone across all sports one more year of eligibility. Originally, Boyd was planning on student teaching near her hometown of De Pere. However, since she’s been granted another year of eligibility, she plans to student-teach in the Whitewater area so she can play one final season. 

After college and her final season, Boyd plans to continue to pursue soccer on top of whatever avenue she chooses in her education path, but one thing she certainly wants to do is coach. She said, “I want to be a coach in whatever school district I work in. I’ve done volunteer work in the past and I plan to pursue that route in the future at some point.”

Boyd ranks in the top 10 on the school career chart in points, goals and assists, and her effort on and off the pitch haven’t gone unnoticed. 

“Are you smarter than a fifth grader”

Do you have any idea how many fluid ounces are in a quart? How about who wrote the star-spangled banner? 

If you know the answers, consider playing “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader” trivia like students did Sept. 14 in Warhawk Alley and virtually through Kahoot gaming software. 

In total, 66 participants made up 33 teams. The teams that finished in the top three were awarded prizes including bluetooth headphones, new backpacks, and vouchers for h’EAT and Fire restaurants.

Each question had two to four answers to choose from, and the faster you selected your answer, the more points you received. There were a total of thirty rounds and the scores accumulated over the course of the game. Students appreciated how well the event was organized and thought it went smoothly. 

“I enjoyed the event and thought that it was really well done. The organizers did a great job of listening to the audience and making the proper adjustments so that we were able to fully enjoy the game,” said participant Jacob Trunk. “It was also nice that there weren’t any problems to note, which shows that those running the event did a fantastic job!”

Alex Michaelsen, the trivia coordinator at Warhawk Alley planned, organized, and executed this event end-to-end with help from colleagues. 

I need to give a huge thank you to Michael Garcia from UC Entertainment for all of his help on this event. He and I collaborated on making the questions and putting the Kahoot quiz together,” Michaelsen said. “Overall, I think it turned out great! It was high energy, we had a lot of interaction between our fellow Warhawks, and lot’s of people playing along with their friends.”

Everyone seemed to have a good time – especially the winners. Jessie Peters is now a trivia champion being on the team that was crowned victorious. 

“The event was really entertaining, and we were surprised to finish first after a very close game,” said Peters. “We had a harder time with some of the mental math questions. One question we struggled with was, ‘How many fluid ounces are in a quart,?’ which was one of the only questions that my team had no idea on. We took a guess and it ended up being right–and that ended up being the question that earned us the win!”The next trivia event is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 5, at 7:00 p.m. The theme will be Early 2000’s Disney Channel Original TV Shows Trivia. If you were a fan of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, That’s So Raven, The Proud Family, and more, you could be the next trivia champion.