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Madison City Council Should Send This Message To Our Minority Community

April 1, 2021

We can all agree that words can be meaningful. Heartfelt intentions as expressed this week by the Madison City Council when condemning hate and violence against the Asian and Pacific Islander community via a resolution have value. It reflects our shared sentiments as a community. But we also know that actions are even better when conveying what really matters to society.

And what matters to the entire minority community of this place we call home. 

While there is a need to express our feelings towards a segment of the population who over the past year has received the harsh racial treatment it is also important we not forget to look in our own mirrors. Some of the actions by the very ones who can so easily put forth a timely resolution need to be examined for their past performance.

Like every other resident of Madison, I was simply horrified by the violence and rioting that took place last summer in the downtown area. While peaceful protests were legitimate as people responded to the societal needs of focusing on procedures used by law enforcement the senseless and vile elements that hijacked the protests and turned them into lawless events can never be justified.

Let us recall when earnest and hard-working State Street business owners, who had massive damage to their places of operation, initially sought assistance from the city they found that another layer of racism was to be found. 

As the Wisconsin State Journal reported on July 22, 2020.  The issue at hand was the consideration of $250,000 at a city council meeting. The council rejected putting that funding toward helping local businesses repair damage caused by looting and break-ins.

While there are business owners of color on State Street, none of them are Black, Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc., acknowledged.

If nothing else makes you stop and ponder where we are in this city that line should have been the one.

The recovery program would have allowed local small businesses and property owners to apply for reimbursement grants of up to $25,000 for window replacement or other repairs, or to pay for insurance deductibles.

Miar Maktabi, owner of the Dubai Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar on State Street and a Syrian immigrant, said his business sustained $39,000 in damage in one week. He pleaded with the city for help. 

“You guys are burying us,” Maktabi said. 

That news story and troubling behavior by the city council has not been forgotten.  When reading about the timely resolution this week, one we all support, it does call into question how dutiful the council has been with walking their talk. The reason this matters to me is due to the friendships James and I have cultivated over the past 20 years in this city with minority-run businesses.

Over the years we have become friends with people in the restaurant world from Southeast Asia, Jamaica, etc., and in so doing helped where we could be useful.  In one case I helped to gain citizenship for someone through Senator Feingold’s office.  James, being able to speak several languages, has assisted others in ways with government offices and companies that they were not able to do easily on their own.

We helped due to the fact the folks were nice people, just needing a bit of a helping hand, and we had the skills that made a difference.  We did not look at skin color or place of origin, but simply asked how we could help as friends.

Over the years we learned their stories and heard of their experiences. We saw the gripping pictures and heard the compelling narrative of a restaurant owner escaping on a small overloaded boat out of Vietnam. Not knowing the English language, and certainly not accustomed to Wisconsin winters they stayed focused on their goal. In a few decades, the family were business owners and employers, paying taxes, and becoming citizens. Their first generation here is even more successful. Many of these people live the American Dream.

So, it pained me last year to read that a Syrian immigrant who was working hard and striving mightily to succeed did not have the ‘right’ color of skin to be taken seriously following the city’s lack of ability or steadfastness in securing the downtown from rioters.  To put it more bluntly progressives were in overdrive to assuage their white guilt, and in so doing were committing the same stark sins that they preach so mightily against.

I bring this all up today as the same council who made possible the resolution this week about violence and bigotry against Asians were also the ones who did not act fast enough or with deeper pockets when other minorities were facing hardships on State Street.

If the council truly wanted to do something meaningful that absolutely impacted each and every business owner in the Downtown, and also encourage new business to emerge they would make clear in a unified voice that Madison will never again allow for violence to get out of control. The bottom line that the council should demand to be enforced is that the rule of law will be applied. 

Talk about doing something meaningful for the minority community!  How about protecting what they have dreamed and worked for?  We need to say there simply can never be allowed the destruction of minority businesses in the city so some can send a message of personal outrage. 

That would be a very pro-minority statement….if the council wanted to make it.

And so it goes.

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