A Walworth County judge ruled Monday she saw no evidence of racism in Walworth County citing an African American man for failing to obtain a conditional-use permit for a party he held last year at his rural Elkhorn property.
As Judge Kristine Drettwan framed the issue, it was one big coincidence.
It was a coincidence that Walworth County hasn’t issued a citation for this violation in more than a decade before citing John Neighbors last June.
What were the odds this citation would go to a man whose race makes up only 1.2 percent of Walworth County’s population?
Neighbors seems to have won the lottery, except in reverse. He must pay $4,000 in fines.
It’s amazing so many others managed to escape these citations. Witnesses at a May hearing described many parties and camping setups similar to the one at Neighbors’ property. With Alpine Valley in Walworth County’s backyard, parties such as Neighbors’ are widespread.
James Langnes, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent who grew up in Delavan, testified in May that he has seen campers on private property while assisting Walworth County law enforcement with drug operations around Alpine Valley. He also has camped himself.
“I wasn’t aware it was something you could be cited for until this scenario,” Langnes said.
Robyn Smith, who owns and operates Gypsy Soul Food Truck, testified she has served food at about 15 music festivals on private property in Walworth County over the past six years.
Smith said she was at Neighbors’ gathering in 2018, and she said it was similar to others she had attended. Neighbors’ was the only one where a county official showed up, she said.
Apparently, Neighbors was just unlucky. Walworth County has a complaint-based system, meaning its officers issue citations only when they get a complaint. Somebody complained about Neighbors, but his race had nothing to do with the citation, a zoning officer explained.
It’s one big coincidence.
African Americans routinely experience coincidences such as this in all walks of life.
When police officers are accused of racial profiling, their bosses often say the racial makeup of the people arrested was a coincidence.
When African Americans own no houses in a particular area of town, real estate agents say it’s a coincidence.
When educators point out disparities between education outcomes of white and black students, many legislators say it’s a coincidence.
What happened to Neighbors is another coincidence in a long line of coincidences. That African Americans happen to be on the losing end of these coincidences is also—you guessed it—a coincidence.