Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 25, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Burlington Area School District has experienced incidents of racism, but the small industrial city in southeast Wisconsin isn’t a racist community.
Radical left groups like the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism and their outside allies in the Black Lives Matter movement have spent the better part of the past year dangerously painting with a broad brush. And the mainstream media has ravenously reported every sweeping accusation, each new recrimination.
Community leaders like Taylor Wishau say the wide-ranging claims of racism have torn the community apart. And any collaborative efforts to deal with actual acts of racism, Wishau said, have been lost amid a “social justice” movement that has spiralled into disorderly and destructive behavior — like the meltdown that shut down the Burlington School Board meeting earlier this month.
Disorder at the board meeting
Wishau, a Burlington School Board member who has pushed back on the unfair characterizations of his community, tells Empower Wisconsin he and others were screamed at, threatened, even spit on after protesters broke up the board’s meeting on Nov. 9.
“I was called a faggot, cracker (the N word),” he recalled. “Some of the protesters said, ‘We’re going to find you.’ Another one told a police officer, ‘We’re going to f_ _ _ing kill you.”
Wishau claims the protester who spit on him — caught on video standing up on chairs and running around the Burlington High School library without a mask — declared on Facebook a few days before the meeting that she had COVID-19.
The disorder was all caught on video.
When the board attempted to move onto other business after a heated discussion on proposed “antiracism” and BLM-focused curriculum, radical leftists, including BLM members from outside the district, began chanting their slogans: Do You Hear Us! No Justice No Peace! And Shut it Down! — which they proceeded to do.
They got in the faces of curriculum opponents and board members, screaming and demanding members take up their demands. One protester yelled at the superintendent, accusing him of being “very disrespectful” for taking notes during the meeting, as a young man sat and spun around on a table in the Burlington High School Library. Others jumped up on chairs and waved their fists.
As board members tried to escape the hatred aimed at them, the room filled with obscenities. The “mostly peaceful” protesters directed much of their wrath at any one who had the audacity to claim that “All Lives Matter.”
Wishau was particularly targeted for wearing a pro-police “thin blue line” face covering. To the members of Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism and their many BLM allies who came in from Milwaukee and elsewhere, it was a sign of disrespect — a symbol of racism — to stand with law enforcement when some in their ranks are accused in the deaths of black people like George Floyd.
Wishau said he was in full support of the effort to deal with racial slurs and other racist incidents in Burlington’s schools in recent years. It was a campaign launched by concerned parents and wholly supported by the board.
When the pandemic hit, the initiative slowed and district officials were forced to deal with the pressing demands of COVID-19 and a statewide lockdown. Members of the coalition grew frustrated, declaring that racism in Burlington was a pandemic, too. That’s when they circulated a petition proclaiming that Burlington is a racist community built on white supremacy. It was the same rhetoric spilling into communities across the country following the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Wishau said early July was his “breaking point.” The coalition and BLM members held a protest, demanding community members go along with their agenda and using heavy-handed tactics to ensure they did.
“One of the business owners downtown said they did not want to display one of the coalition’s fliers, that they wanted to remain neutral,” the school board member said. “That exploded into, ‘The business owner is being racist.’ “I know the business owner. That person has done so much for the people of this community.”
Burlington found itself in the national spotlight in September, when a teacher gave her fourth-grade students an extra-curricular lesson on the Black Lives Matter movement. Her lauding of the “mostly peaceful” BLM movement didn’t sit well with some members of the community located 25 miles northwest of Kenosha — a city that saw Black Lives Matter protesters loot, smash and burn a large swath of its downtown and Uptown districts. Some Burlington residents objected to the indoctrination of their children through racist “anti-racism” materials.
NBC News and others, of course, painted Burlington as a den of racism — a place where racial slurs and discrimination are commonplace.
Things finally melted down at the school board meeting earlier this month.
Wishau said the school district is finally doing what he has recommended for months: stop working with the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism.
Darnisha Garbade, who heads up the coalition, has been soliciting funds ostensibly for the group. But there appears to be no record of the organization in nonprofit tracker databases. On its Facebook page, the coalition lists ways to donate through multiple payments apps.
“These folks have shown from the very beginning they have not been serious about working with us,” Wishau said. “There are so many positive things going on in the school district right now, but they are being lost to this false narrative that Burlington is racist.”
Instead, he said the district will work with other credible equity partners, such as the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the National Equity Project.