Jeffrey Dahmer's Accomplices? Racism and HomophobiaRoundup
tags: crime, Milwaukee, Police, LGBTQ history, Jeffrey Dahmer
Kidiocus King-Carroll is an assistant professor of Africana studies and anthropology at CSU-Channel Islands.
Between 1987 and 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer was responsible for the murders of 15 Black, Indigenous, Asian and Latino men and boys in Wisconsin. Eleven victims were African American, and most murders were committed on Milwaukee’s predominantly Black Northside. Dahmer met many of his victims in gay bars and LGBTQ community spaces, or at bus stops and various commercial venues throughout the city. While not all the men and boys publicly identified as LGBTQ, some of them might be considered “in the life” — a term used to describe the meeting of “street life” (i.e., sex workers, hustlers, pimps) and “gay life.”
There has been a surfeit of TV shows and films profiling Dahmer. The recently released Netflix series created by Ryan Murphy, “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” is just the latest in a libidinous true crime canon that emphasizes spectacle and gore, while undermining or even diminishing the lived experiences of Dahmer’s victims.
Typical depictions of his killing frenzy fail to note how LGBTQ communities of color were easy prey for Dahmer — and for many others, not just serial killers — because of deep-seated histories of police violence and indifference in urban centers throughout the Midwest and the Rust Belt. Without this element, the story is incomplete and sacrifices a chance to reckon with a major societal problem.
As with many other cities after World War II, Milwaukee saw an increase in the public visibility of LGBTQ communities. During the war, the city’s Metropolitan Commission on Crime Prevention (MCCP), an influential crime prevention body composed of the city’s civic leaders, conducted a study of gay life in Milwaukee and found that nearly 1,000 gay men called the city home. Their increased visibility in the city led to more policing and convictions. A February 1945 report showed that 871 men had been convicted of sodomy in the city since 1938 — with the number of convictions rising from 72 men in 1938 to 198 in 1944.
The city’s Black population also increased during this period because of the Black exodus from the South known as the Second Great Migration, due to industrial growth generated by wartime manufacturing necessities. After World War II, Blacks from states such as Mississippi and Arkansas migrated to Milwaukee seeking better job opportunities. The city’s Black population more than doubled over 10 years, growing from 8,821 in 1940 to 21,722 by 1950.