Milwaukee Has A Car Theft Crisis. A Group Of Older Black Men Is Trying To Stop It.

Felisha Kelly's phone started buzzing. It was about her son.

Earl Ingram Jr., center, discussed the struggles facing single mothers raising troubled sons during a meeting of a newly formed group, Voices of the Elders, on Thursday at Coffee Makes You Black. Ingram is part of a group of senior community leaders and advocates who hope to change the lives of troubled boys. © Angela Peterson/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Earl Ingram Jr., center, discussed the struggles facing single mothers raising troubled sons during a meeting of a newly formed group, Voices of the Elders, on Thursday at Coffee Makes You Black. Ingram is part of a group of senior community leaders and advocates who hope to change the lives of troubled boys.

“People were asking me if I saw my son on TV, and then they started sending me the video,” Kelly said.

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The video showed her son and another young man stealing a car.

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The boy behind the wheel of the car had peeled back the steering column. The owner of the car tells him, “Get out of my car right this minute. Get out of my car.”

Kelly’s 13-year-old son is standing outside of the car with a blue hoodie on.

One of the boys tell the owner, “This is my shit,” before the video cuts off.

The boys stole the car.

Her son stole at least three cars in September, Kelly told me, leading police on several high-speed chases. In each case, Kelly said her son was held about an hour before police called and told her to come get him.

In fact, there is little punishment for kids who steal vehicles. And as a result, youth have become emboldened, and many don’t seem to fear the consequences.

“I’ve tried to do everything I can do. I tried Big Brothers, but they say they can’t work with him and his father doesn’t want to help out,” Kelly said. “I’m out of options.”

Earl Ingram Jr., a longtime community activist said in situations like this, a community approach is needed.

“Clearly, what you have here is a mother who is overwhelmed. She can’t control her son. If her family is not stepping in, we need to do something before it’s too late. And I tell you one thing, we are not about to let that happen,” he said.

Ingram, who recently created a group of senior men called Voices of the Elders, works with Milwaukee Public Schools to address the crises of Black boys failing in school, stealing cars, and committing crime in the community.

“We are a group of Black men who have done some extraordinary things in our lives," Ingram said. "Most, if not all of us have raised Black boys to become productive Black men, and it’s time that we step up and do something.” 

Answering a call from the MPS superintendent  

The idea behind Voices of the Elders is not new. Older Black men have always talked among themselves in coffee shops and restaurants — typically about problems in the community and how to solve them.

“We talk all the time, but we must make our voices heard. We can no longer sit by and let things continue the way they have been going,” said Kenny Green, 64, a retired Milwaukee firefighter.

The group of more than a dozen Black men includes former educators, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.

A senior men’s group called Voices of the Elders, from left, Russ Thomas, James Lindsey, Earl Ingram Jr., Kenny Green, Hassiem Babatu and Harry Oden, come together on Thursday at Coffee Makes You Black to talk about ways to reach troubled boys. © Angela Peterson/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel A senior men’s group called Voices of the Elders, from left, Russ Thomas, James Lindsey, Earl Ingram Jr., Kenny Green, Hassiem Babatu and Harry Oden, come together on Thursday at Coffee Makes You Black to talk about ways to reach troubled boys.

All are over the age of 50. All have raised kids to be positive, productive young men and women. All have deep roots in Milwaukee and no plans to leave.

“We will die in this here. So, until that time comes, we are going to do everything in our power to change Milwaukee for the better,” said Ingram, 67.

Voices of the Elders is an answer to a call from MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Posley.

Earlier this year, Posley said the state’s largest school district needs help from the entire community if its students are to become productive citizens.

All of us need to come together and get on the same page for our young people," Posley said. "The village is all of us.”  

The message resonated with Ingram, who got on the phone and rounded up other men who felt the same way.

The group earned Posley's endorsement and support from Mayor Tom Barrett, acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffery Norman, and Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas. If approved by the School Board, the elders could be in schools as early as November.

While there are a number of initiatives underway to close the achievement gap and connect Black and Latino boys to mentors in MPS, Voices of the Elders will be different because the men will work with boys ages 10-13. It will also be different because the elders are old enough, they hope, to command a different level of respect from the boys.

“We are not going to be coming at them from the same vantage point as a young person would. What we have on our side is wisdom, and that’s not a bad thing,” Ingram said.

Record number of car thefts in Milwaukee is first on the agenda

At the top of their agenda: curbing car thefts.

As of Oct. 10, there had been 8,124 cars stolen in the city this year, a 174% increase over the same time last year. The city is reporting historic rates of car thefts, with an average of 28.7 cars reported stolen every day.

Milwaukee has already had more cars stolen in the first 10 months of 2021 than in all of 2020 and 2019 combined, according to Milwaukee Police data

A lot of these cars are being stolen by young people. When Voices of the Elders met with Barrett last week, the mayor told the men that only 2% of vehicle thefts result in prosecution.

“That tells me they are not prosecuting these young people for stealing cars and as a result there are no consequences. What do our young people learn from this?” Ingram said.

Kelly, 34, a single mother with four boys ranging in age from 10-19, said she is fearful her son will learn the hard way.

“I did not raise my son to be a car thief. I don’t steal. I tried talking to him. I’m so angry that if I start to hit on him, I’m afraid I won’t stop, and I have to be here for my other children,” she said.

Kelly, who is working on her GED at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, said her son is part of a group called The Kia Boys. The group of young people steal Kia and Hyundai cars and drive recklessly across the city often times hanging out of windows.

The group has dozens of videos posted on Facebook under #theKiaboys, showing members driving on sidewalks at MPS schools, running red lights, and leading police on high-speed chases. A group of girls — #theKiagirls — do the same thing.

A majority of the cars stolen in Milwaukee are Kias and Hyundais. Car experts say some late-model Kias are easy to steal because thieves know they can break the back window without setting off an alarm, unlock the door, and quickly peel back the steering column with a screwdriver or a USB port to crank the car and go.

So many Kias and Hyundais have been stolen that parts to fix the steering column are on back order.

When I asked Kelly how many cars her son has stolen, she said too many to count.

Kelly said her son has skipped the last month of school. He’s in eighth grade but she doesn’t believe he’s going to graduate.

Kelly told me recently that her son was being held in detention in yet another stolen car case. A case worker told her he was going to be kept locked up for a while because he is too dangerous and disrespectful to be at home.

Is she worried about car theft victims suing her? 

"I don't have anything," she said, "so if they sue, I really don't having anything to take."

Many Milwaukee moms need help 

When I met with the group of elders at Coffee Makes You Black, the men said that while it is easy to blame a mother for her child’s behavior, that will not fix the problem.

“It’s obvious she can’t handle this situation on her own,” said James Lindsey, a retired MPS principal.

Ingram agreed.

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Too many mothers are trying to raise young men with little support from fathers. If the home is broken, then the village has to step up.

“We are trying to save young boys like him right now from heading in the direction he is headed in because if you don’t stop him right now, when he becomes 15 or 16, he will have a gun in his hand and doing major damage to us in our community,” Ingram said.

Most successful people have role models outside the home — aunts, uncles, clergy, teachers, grandparents, and neighbors who helped them grow up. But some of our kids have very few positive influences. The elders would like to change that.

I wrote down Kelly's phone number and gave it to Ingram and Green. They said they would try to get her sons on the right track.

“We will probably save their lives,” Ingram said.

To become a member of Voices of the Elders, call Earl Ingram Jr. at (414) 507-5642

a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera © Provided by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

James E. Causey started reporting on life in his city while still at Marshall High School through a Milwaukee Sentinel high school internship. He's been covering his hometown ever since, writing and editing news stories, projects and opinion pieces on urban youth, mental health, employment, housing and incarceration. Most recently, he wrote "What happened to us?" which tracked the lives of his third-grade classmates, and "Cultivating a community," about the bonding that takes place around a neighborhood garden. Causey was a health fellow at the University of Southern California in 2018 and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2007.

Email him at jcausey@jrn.com and follow him on Twitter: @jecausey.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee has a car theft crisis. A group of older Black men is trying to stop it.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/milwaukee-has-a-car-theft-crisis-a-group-of-older-black-men-is-trying-to-stop-it/ar-AAPwwws

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