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Admit It: Madison’s State Street Has Serious Safety Issues

September 8, 2019

I am the first to praise Madison.  I love our isthmus, statehouse, UW, local lakes, and kind-hearted people.  I often post about how wonderful it is to live here.  Just this weekend I posted about the Wisconsin Book Festival taking place this fall.

But as with every post I place on Caffeinated Politics I play it honestly.  I call them as I see them.  As such, I need to be upfront and point out what many wish to deny.  Iconic State Street is not the safe place we all want it to be, and that it must be to retain its overall appeal.

About two months ago James and I started down State Street from Capitol Square.  We noted a number of police vehicles parked in the area with a number of our finest walking about and conversing with others.  Clearly, something was not right.  That night on the late local news it was reported shots had been fired in that block.  And from what we came to learn, it was only minutes prior to our walk to the Memorial Union in search of a brat while watching a sunset.  (Which is a must-do when visiting our city!)

This past week we again were on State heading up from the UW to our car parked at the Capitol.  It was a night, I remarked to others, which impressed me so much as we saw the eager and energized young men and women, clearly UW students, confident in their walk and the way they presented themselves, feeling ready to take on the world.  I felt good about the future in a way that is hard to deny when looking at university students.

James and I grabbed a malt from a shop, and as we sat for a moment, soon realized that the area was not suited for us.  One person was clearly having a drug (whatever) episode and fell back on the pavement while in a sitting position.  Another person nearby laughed and said the person was “wasted”.  That was more than enough to witness and we moved to enjoy our ice-cream elsewhere.

As we walked back to the top of State it was now getting dark.  I have become accustomed at those hours not to look at faces but to watch hands.  That probably comes from reading too many books about espionage and hand-offs on a Moscow street.  But to my left (in front of what had once been an art supply store) two men walked into each other as a blond-haired woman was close by.  I see a packet smaller than a cigarette pack being transferred from one man to the other.  All walk to the intersection where the dealer heads left in the direction of a parking garage as the one who received the packet crosses the street where he then meets another man who passes close.  As soon as they glide past each other the man again hooks up with the blond woman who has walked slowly ahead.

We do not have to be reminded that this element comes with guns and the real likelihood of violence.  The fact that this deal was done with no effort to take it to a place less crowded speaks to the ease with which State Street is seen as an area to ‘conduct business’.

Now I am no prude or conservative in liberal clothing.  I just happen to have been raised to consider how we treat our bodies to have meaning.   It seemed so jarring to me to have seen those young minds eager for learning, and life, up near the UW campus, and then to see other youngish people who looked weathered and thin wasting life by selling and buying drugs.

I have heard others say they have no interest in participating at the Dane County Farmers’ Market or strolling down State Street for a night out.  While that upsets me as I love this city and know the vast majority of people would never harm anyone else, I also am aware that if I were to advise an older couple about walking away from the Square I would recommend a different path than State Street.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is playing to her progressive base when she says the homeless population is not to blame for the behavior which alarms business owners and frustrates police.  But those of us who are not wedded to a mere slogan that sells at election time knows the criminal and violent behavior is created by a cast of characters who need to be dealt with in a fashion that will end the problem.

Some in city government think winter weather will stem crime in the State Street area.  There is another option.  Perhaps a policy that does not cater to people who are classified as homeless would also be an answer.  Sometimes putting forth a tough and strong policy is better than adding toilets.  (I could not fathom what I read today in my Sunday newspaper.)  After all, most of us have a car and can take our money to other areas and spend it where shootings and drugs are not part of the urban mosaic.

But our city council seems not to agree.

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