Maryland's new Emmett Till Alert system for acts of hate and racism should be implemented in Milwaukee

As a Black man, I have experienced numerous incidents of racial profiling and hate based on my skin color. From traffic stops where I was never issued a ticket to hate mail sent to my home and office calling me the N-word.

Many of my Black friends and family members have experienced the same sort of ugly mistreatment.

Simply because we’re black.

African Americans talk about race more than whites because the acts of hate are often directed at us by white people. These talks help us to cope with living in America.

But what happens when a hateful act is so big that talking to friends and family is not enough?

In Maryland, officials just launched a new way to combat hate. Called the Emmett Till Alert system, the goal is to bring attention to acts of hate and racism that may otherwise fly under the radar.

Emmett Louis Till, a black 14-year-old Chicago boy, was found dead in the Tallahatchie River near the Delta community of Money, Miss., on Aug. 31, 1955.
Emmett Louis Till, a black 14-year-old Chicago boy, was found dead in the Tallahatchie River near the Delta community of Money, Miss., on Aug. 31, 1955.

Launched in mid-August, the alert is named for the 14-year-old Black child who was kidnapped, beaten, lynched, and shot in the head before his body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River in 1955. His alleged crime — whistling at a white woman.

After his body was discovered three days later, it was returned to Chicago where his mother held an open casket funeral to show what was done to her son. Till posthumously became an icon of the civil rights movement.

The alert system will serve as a type of warning system to sound an alarm about acts of hate committed against Black people. Such an alert system would be perfect for Milwaukee — a city sometimes regarded as one of the worst places for African Americans to live.

A rising tide of hate

Hateful incidents against people of color — especially African Americans — have been rising across the country. Blacks are often victimized simply by trying to live their lives.

Here are a few recent incidents we know about:

There are dozens of other incidents in which police were called on Black people for laughing on the train, taking a nap between classes, waiting for people in Starbucks, or barbecuing in the park. And I'm sure there are hundreds more that we will never know about because they weren’t reported.

The Emmett Till Alert system could give people insight into flagrant incidents of hate and microaggressions that often are overlooked.

“Bringing the Emmett Till Alert system to Milwaukee would be an excellent idea,” said Reggie Jackson, co-owner of Nurturing Diversity Partners and head griot of America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

Hate has been growing across the country, and more tools are needed to make sure it doesn’t continue to spread, Jackson said.

The new system works much like an Amber Alert. When there is a credible report of a hate crime, an alert will be sent out to Black elected officials, civil rights organizations, and community activists.

The goal is to get a rapid response to an incident because too many incidents go unsolved.

The system will have three levels: low, medium, and high.

A low-level event might involve a racial slur painted on the side of a building, while a high-level alert would like the mass shooting at the Buffalo grocery store on May 14, when a white man killed 10 Black people and injured three others.

Black leaders and law enforcement will decide how to rank the incidents.

So far, Maryland is the only place with an Emmett Till Alert system, but other areas may soon follow.

“I really don’t see any downside to Milwaukee and other cities following suit,” Jackson said. “Why wouldn’t they?”

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The impact of Obama's election, then Trump

According to FBI Crime Statistics, there were 8,263 hate crimes reported in the United States in 2020, a 13.39% increase over 2019.

A majority of the hate crimes — 35% — were committed against African Americans, statistics show.

Nationally, hate crimes have increased 25% since 2012, and in 2020, the most hate crime incidents were reported since 2008. Hate crimes in Wisconsin have spiked as well. Hate crimes increased 44%, to 72 in 2020.  Since 2000, hate crimes in the state have increased 53%, FBI statistics show.

In 2020, 41 of the 72 hate crimes committed in Wisconsin were against Blacks, Jewish people and gay men, the report shows. The number of hate crimes has not been tallied for 2021 or 2022.

The election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, caused a number of hate groups to emerge, Jackson said. And then "(President) Trump was elected and gave voice to these groups.”

When white supremacists incited violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, Jackson called Trump’s failure to condemn them a flashpoint. Instead of denouncing the violence unequivocally, Trump claimed there "were very fine people, on both sides.”

Around the same time, some in conservative media were peddling the story that white people were being replaced because they have a lower birth rate, Jackson said.

“There has been progress, but the violence has also increased against people of color in this country and that worries me. It’s the main reason we are even talking about the Emmett Till Alert in the first place,” he said.

Many questions remain to be answered about how the system would work. Who will get the alerts? Will this reduce hate crimes? How will regular people receive the information? How will people be educated to stop hate?

We don’t know the answer to these questions yet, but we do know hate crimes are on the rise and Black people remain in the crosshairs. Much like Emmett Till was in 1955.

The alert system could help. Milwaukee should adopt it.

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 and follow him on Twitter: @jecausey.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee should adopt Emmett Till Alert system for acts of racism