The world is a vast and wonderful place, full of people, places, and experiences just waiting to be discovered. Every day holds the possibility of a new beginning; every hour, minute, and second ripe with potential. Art, music, and literature. Family, friendship, and love. Step outside and open your eyes: it’s all there for the taking.
Then again, if the news is to be believed, you’re more likely to be shot, raped, mugged, kidnapped, scammed, burned alive, buried alive, or eaten alive than you are to exchange a friendly “hello” with a fellow human being. So it goes for Milwaukee, where the message of the nightly news and certain politicians often seems to be this: BE AFRAID. The city is a dangerous cesspool teeming with people out to get you. Predators lurk on every corner. Public infrastructure projects will burden future generations with insurmountable debt. Your dining will be dirty. Stay inside. Live in fear. Trust no one. Don’t change the channel.
But hey, we get it: fear sells, and it’s pretty handy for getting votes, too. Still, we couldn’t resist rounding up seven of the most egregious Milwaukee media and/or politician scare stories from this year. Yup, all seven are from January, meaning we have 11 more months of Milwaukee-rific fear mongering to go.
1. Streetcar rape
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be skeptical of the needlessly controversial Milwaukee Streetcar—cost, usefulness, something to do with Millennials—but hypothetical rape and murder aren’t among them. That didn’t stop Ald. Joe Dudzik from recently squeezing out this turd on a local radio show, though:
“There’s going to be a couple of assaults, or maybe a rape or a shooting on one of these streetcars and the millennials who claim they are going to be riding this thing are going to be nowhere to be seen, and we’re going to be stuck with the ongoing maintenance cost forever.”
Rape! Shootings! Maintenance costs! In Joe Dudzik’s Milwaukee, public transportation is just another lurking ground for, you know, those people. And don’t get him started on food trucks.
2. Ritual chicken sacrifice in Milwaukee County parks
Remember when “satanic panic” was a thing in the ’80s and early ’90s? Every Metallica-loving hesher was a devil worshipper, and every dopey prank pulled by every dopey goth kid was a nefarious ritual in service of Beelzebub. Though long since discredited, the phenomenon is still good for a juicy scare story in 2015. Take the news of two beheaded chickens found in Milwaukee County Parks—one in Bender Park, and one (complete with candles!) in Grant Park. A Fox6 report subtly includes words like “ritual,” “sacrifice,” and “cult,” and drops passive aggressive bombs like this:
“While this is clearly not a major reason for concern, some say they worry this type of sacrifice could expand beyond chickens.”
A day later, cooler, non-beheaded heads prevailed, and the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s office told everyone to move along, there was no Satan to see here.
3. Homeless sex offenders
Here’s an almost poetic example of an old scare story breeding a new scare story. Over the last decade, all 19 Milwaukee County municipalities have passed residency restrictions for just-released sex offenders. (Note: next to dangerous “new” drugs, there is no better scare story subject than sex offenders.) The fear, of course, was that these degenerates would be living among us, hiding in every bush and alleyway in the county. Now, according to WISN12, these residency ordinances have forced sex offenders to live on the streets, effectively bringing them “closer to the ones you love.” In this sex-offender-teeming Milwaukee County, nowhere is safe, including malls (dig the shot of the Grand Ave.), libraries, buses (see #1), and other places “frequented by kids.” In the WISN report, Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy (who opposed the original ordinances) estimates 100 sex offenders are living on the streets now, and 500 will be flooding the streets this summer. The moral of the story: be afraid, and when that fear leads to something new, be afraid again.
4. Brown Deer Middle School “sex party”
We live in a country that loves condemning and criminalizing sexuality almost as much as it does promoting and selling it. Add teenagers into the mix, and you’ve got all the makings of a shameful, sexy scandal. Recently, the entire state of Wisconsin lost its shit when it learned of a Brown Deer Middle School “sex party.” It seems four students—ranging from 12 to 14 years old—got together over winter break and did, well, something sexual. Even worse, that something was recorded on a cell phone (though WISN12 notes it wasn’t distributed on social media). Fox6 quotes random Brown Deer residents decrying the scandal as “appalling,” “sad,” and “disgusting,” while CBS58 uses the word “assault” in its story and finds someone to trot out the old “Where were the parents?” chestnut. Never mind that no one knew the details of the “party,” and that the Brown Deer police chief had this to say about the incident:
“I use the term ‘sex party’ loosely, because that’s not really what it was. It was four teenagers who got together and sexual activity took place after that.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped the police from pursing criminal charges against the kids, something the chief solemnly notes “can ruin their [lives], forever.”
5. Pet-killing coyotes in Mequon
Thanks to decades of vintage scare stories, the collective dream of an entire generation was to leave the scary city behind for the comfort and conformity of the suburbs. Little did they know a new danger awaited them in their dozy cul-de-sacs: pet-killing coyotes. For months (years?), WISN12 has been scoring big with the story of coyotes “running rampant” in places like Mequon and Grafton, “killing pets and ultimately scaring residents.” Terrifying stuff, to be sure—so how can residents combat this four-legged menace (other than never leaving the house again, of course)? In an update from last week, WISN helpfully notes: “Experts say simply yelling at the coyotes may make them go away.”
6. Toxic toys
Here’s a reliable scare story guaranteed to make already-paranoid yuppie parents quiver in their baby slings: toxic toys. In a post-Christmas CBS58 investigation, reporter Sarah Barwacz looks for toxic lead in the kiddie toys of a local mother, as well as some random toys purchased from Walgreens, Goodwill, and Dollar Tree. The “shocking findings” of these tests? Well, some of the crap from Goodwill and Dollar Tree has illegal lead levels, though none of the stuff in the mother’s house is found to be dangerous. Still, CBS58 icily suggests parents buy only name-brand toys for their kids, and avoid toys made in China (good luck with that).
In a 2013 episode of The Disclaimer, Fox6 anchor Ted Perry nicely explains why TV news seems so obsessed with negative stories. These stories are violent breaks from the normal flow of daily life, Perry says, and it’s the job of TV news to report these breaks. 50 planes taking off from Mitchell is supposed to happen, and therefore isn’t a story; a traffic accident or, say, a headless chicken in a county park is not supposed to happen, and therefore is a story. So, like we said before, we get it. But by giving these breaks from the ordinary such prominence, it appears that they’re much more prevalent than they really are. Just like the Internet can turn the ignorant opinions of a handful of Twitter nobodies into a full-on crisis worthy of 8,000 shaming think pieces, so too can the nightly news turn isolated incidents of awfulness into outbreaks of terror and fear. That phenomenon will likely never change (and will likely only get worse), but it’s good to keep the non-hysterical truth in mind.
So where were we…oh, snow. Yeah, we were totally going to bitch about all the hyperbolic coverage devoted to this weekend’s snowstorm, fully expecting it to fizzle out, East Coast-style. But damn if it didn’t really, really snow. A lot. Oh well, best to stay indoors and bone up on those easy-to-follow winter parking rules. Stay safe, Milwaukee!