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Reparations debate; one-man drug court; military base pollution; Wisconsin’s rural exodus; stranded in Afghanistan

Of note: This week we highlight the latest installment of our series, Color of Money. This installment focuses on the call for reparations to compensate Black Americans for injuries caused by state-sanctioned slavery and racism.

In this story, reported by Molly Carmichael and Martha Daniels, Milwaukee resident Reggie Jackson recounts how past government policies kept his family and other African-American residents from accumulating the type of wealth enjoyed by many white families. Questions loom about whether and how to compensate Black Americans whose ancestors endured generations of discrimination from government. 

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Reggie Jackson, a former oral historian and board member of America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, is seen in the museum’s gallery on June 16, 2021. Jackson says two of his uncles who served in World War II were unable to benefit from the GI Bill in their home state of Mississippi because they were Black. This made it difficult for the family’s generations that came afterward to acquire wealth and catch up to the white servicemen who had access to benefits, including free college tuition and help buying a home. Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

A national debt: Should government compensate for slavery and racism?

Wisconsin Watch — September 2, 2021

Reggie Jackson, a writer for the Milwaukee Independent and the former head griot, or oral historian, at America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, has a long history of military service in his family stretching back to the Civil War. But when two of his uncles who served in World War II returned to their home state of Mississippi, they found their veteran status wasn’t enough to reap the benefits of the GI Bill passed in 1944. This is because Jackson’s uncles were Black. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act provided veterans with financial aid to reduce the possibility of a post-World War II depression. But Jackson said that two components of the GI Bill — receiving free college tuition and attaining home loans under the VA Guarantee Home Loan Program — were not available to his uncles at the time.

Read more in Color of Money, our series that examines Wisconsin’s stark racial disparities in wealth and income.

‘Forever chemicals’ from a military installation at Mitchell Airport are a risk to nearby drinking wells, Lake Michigan, a report says

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — September 1, 2021

Despite testing that found “forever chemicals” at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport two years ago, the Department of Defense has yet to move forward with a plan to address the contamination, putting nearby residents with private drinking wells at risk. DOD was notified by the state Department of Natural Resources that it was the responsible party for contamination from PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in ground and surface water near the airport in 2019, but no action has yet been taken, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group that found several Great Lakes region sites could be contaminating groundwater and lakes. 

Drug and alcohol courts allow defendants to minimize punishment if they remain sober, receive treatment for substance abuse and participate in a structured program. Outagamie County Circuit Judge Vincent Biskupic created a similar arrangement with defendants with a key difference: The defendants were answerable only to Biskupic, who set no date for the supervision to end. The atypical arrangement meant longer punishments for some who failed to meet shifting demands. Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch

‘Skipping the middleman’: Defendants faced shifting demands in Outagamie County judge’s one-man drug court

Wisconsin Watch/WPR — Aug 28, 2021

In September 2015, Charles Joe Reuter IV knew two things: He needed help to beat an opioid addiction that landed him behind bars and separated him from his two children, and jail would not provide the treatment he needed. The Appleton man faced jail time for a domestic battery conviction, one of several drug-fueled crimes he had committed after 16 years of drug use morphed into heroin addiction. When Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Biskupic agreed to pause his jail time so he could attend treatment, it sounded appealing. The deal: Attend treatment, remain sober and update the court. But as addiction recovery often goes, Reuter made progress, then slid backwards. Outagamie County has offered a drug and alcohol treatment court since 2009. Instead, Reuter found himself in an ad hoc drug court run by Biskupic — one without a clear timeline and with changing expectations.

Read more in Wisconsin Watch’s Justice Deferred series.

There are pockets of growth, but many parts of rural Wisconsin continue to lose people

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — August 31, 2021

Alison Peralta, a midwife in Crawford County, has delivered hundreds of babies. But the county’s population has been in decline, not a good trend in her profession, as rural Wisconsin raises fewer kids. The recently released 2020 U.S. census figures showed that Crawford ranked fourth among the state’s 72 counties for the biggest decline in population, percentage-wise, since 2010. Richland County saw the greatest drop, 4%, followed by Rusk and Taylor at 3.8% each, and Crawford at 3.2%. The state’s overall population grew 3.6% to 5.9 million, but nearly 30% of the counties, mostly in rural areas, lost residents.

‘They deserve to be saved’: Former interpreter says his family was left behind in U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

WPR — August 31, 2021

A day after the last U.S. aircraft left Afghanistan, a former interpreter for the U.S. Marine Corps living in Wisconsin says he is shocked and disappointed that his family was left behind. The Fitchburg resident was nicknamed “Johnny 5” by the soldiers he worked with between 2010 and 2013. Johnny, who asked that his formal name not be used to protect his family, worked as an interpreter for the Marines for three years before he received a special immigrant visa to come to the United States, arriving in Wisconsin in 2014. Johnny said he had started receiving threats from the Taliban by text message and phone, but his family felt safe remaining in Afghanistan.

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.