State Rep. Johnathan Brostoff and a youth organizer for the ACLU of Wisconsin were among 11 people arrested Tuesday night at a gathering in Sherman Park near a memorial for shooting victim Sylville Smith.
Smith was shot to death near the site on Aug. 13 during an altercation with an officer after a traffic stop. The incident sparked two nights of violence, during which several businesses in the area were torched.
Brostoff, who represents the 19th Assembly District, said he went to the area after learning that Milwaukee police were arresting people who were congregating. He said that he and the ACLU’s Jarrett English had shown up to help de-escalate tensions and avoid another eruption of violence.
People from faith communities also were there to defuse the situation. It’s unclear whether any of them were arrested.
Police said in a statement that they went to the area because nearby residents had complained about 30 to 40 people who were gathered there. According to police, the crowd refused to disperse.
In addition to the 11 people arrested last night for disorderly conduct, three were arrested Wednesday morning after police say a small group again gathered in the area and refused a resident’s request to leave her property, according to a police report.
According to a statement issued by the ACLU of Wisconsin, English was recording the gathering with his cell phone when a police van pulled up and ordered the people standing on the corner of Sherman and Auer to disperse. No reason was given for the order, the ACLU said.
Numerous officers forcibly arrested English as he was walking away as instructed. Both men were thrown to the ground, handcuffed, searched without consent, and placed in a paddy wagon.
After officials became aware that they had arrested a state legislator, the two were released without charges, the ACLU reported.
“The Milwaukee Police Department has once again demonstrated its preference for occupation, excessive force and belligerence over genuine engagement, civil dialog, and de-escalation,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin,” in a statement. “People have a right to stand on a street corner — to observe and record the police, as Jarrett was doing, or for any other reason. Unfortunately, rather than protecting people and their rights, law enforcement in this community all too often engages in the sort of destructive behavior to which Jarrett and Jonathan were subjected last night. Although no one deserves to be treated like this, the police made the mistake this time of abusing people who were in a position to insist on their rights.”
Milwaukee police are investigating the detentions of Brostoff and English to make sure proper procedures were followed, Sgt. Timothy Gauerke told AP.
English said he found the situation was confusing, because he didn’t know the reason for his arrest.
“It was embarrassing and dehumanizing, and I did not feel that I was being treated with the dignity and respect that should be afforded any individual,” he said in a statement. “But I was mostly thinking about all of the young people this happens to every day who don’t have anyone to call to get free. We cannot continue doing this to our people. It has to stop.”
A cruel stroke of irony hit the second night of the Strange Fruit music festival in Milwaukee, which was created “to explore the thoughts and emotions of local musicians, regarding the current climate of racial relations both in Milwaukee and the country as a whole.”
That day Syville K. Smith was gunned down by a police officer in the Sherman Park neighborhood. Hours later frustrated residents lit portions of their neighborhood ablaze, thrusting Milwaukee into the international spotlight.
A renewed sense of determination ran through the final night of Strange Fruit, while Milwaukee musicians across genres responded to the civil unrest.
The next weekend a beloved East Side venue closed its doors and a Riverwest band hung up their instruments. On the plus side, a new band debuted at Cactus Club’s 20th Anniversary, Lorde Fredd33 and Q the Sun dropped a new track, and the Ruby Yacht camp blessed us with a new video. Also, I had an okay time at a “Quiet Clubbing” event.
Klassik in NYC and Strange Fruit
Local hip-hop heavyweight Klassik has evolved over the course of his career. In the beginning he was a promising producer. The single “Boogie” cemented his status as a hitmaker, garnering him a 2012 Radio Milwaukee Award for Artist of the Year and 2013 WAMI for Hip-Hop Artist of the Year. Over the last few years he has emerged as both a powerful solo performer and a strong collaborator (Foreign Goods, Group of the Altos). Klassik’s music has moved into more experimental territory, adding modulation to his voice and using various effects.
On Friday August 12, Klassik played his first show in New York City. It was in support of Minus Pedro’s EP release, a group fronted by Milwaukee-native Bassey Etim. I spoke with Kellen “Klassik” Abston about his experience in NYC and playing the Strange Fruit festival later that weekend amid the unrest that exploded in the Sherman Park neighborhood.
K: The energy was crazy in New York. It was nice to have some Milwaukee homies there, people who had either just recently moved or had been there for a while. It’s cool to have that kind of support system already in place and that spilled over into the rest of the crowd. Everyone was hyper engaged, I wowed some of the right people and made some good connections. So I feel really good about it.
WiG: Did being in NYC amp you up in any way?
K: Oh yeah. The pace of the city is just so vibrant. Everybody is on a mission. Everybody’s doing something. There are millions and millions and millions of people there and they’re all super focused and determined. There’s something going on always. So it’s hard not to be inspired and motivated by that.
WiG: You and I had a similar experience in terms of being out of town when the news broke of the unrest in Sherman Park. I was up at Eaux Claires. What was it like when you started getting word on Saturday night?
K: It was an immediate sadness and a feeling of disconnect. I don’t know why, but the feeling of not being in Milwaukee, it was almost like I got homesick. Which is ironic because it was something terrible that made me want to be home. But I just wanted to be home.
I found out after watching Shakespeare in the Park. This star-studded classic play, sitting in 95 degree heat in Central Park. Then I get out and I’m on the train watching these things unfold back home on my phone.
There was a sense of urgency coupled with the motivation that I already had from being in the city. That could have been a total buzz kill, but no, I’m going to go back and play Strange Fruit. We didn’t know at that point for sure if I was going to be back in time to play with Foreign Goods, but then more than ever I was determined to be at that show on Sunday night at Cactus.
WiG: What was the vibe at Strange Fruit?
K: Everybody just really came with their A-game. The performances were top-notch. I gotta give it up to Chauntee and Jay as far as putting that together. It was such an amazing event. And to see David Ravel there and him being the curator that he is and hearing him say, “Wow, this went really well. It could have went a number of ways. I didn’t know what to expect.” But he was floored. Milo killed it. He headlined that (Sunday) night and had a phenomenal set. You could tell that everybody was there for the betterment of this community in whatever small or large way that they could.
WiG: Would you say there was a prevailing sadness or more of a resurgence of spirit?
K: Definitely the latter. It was just a new resolve, more impassioned. It’s not just our talent and our creative outlet. It goes back to that initial conversation we had at Sista Strings’ house after the shooting in St. Paul. Everybody knows their responsibility and everybody is holding each other accountable and we’re holding ourselves accountable. Everybody was determined not to let their platform go to waste.
Granted, this isn’t the end-all-be-all by any means. But as far as actually taking a step and organizing and coming together and utilizing our talents and putting them toward something that might uplift people and bring people together, that happened. Even in the midst of what was going on in the city. So it was just crazy timing that we had this festival amid the madness that ensued.
WiG: How did the Foreign Goods set go?
K: Excellent. I had a little extra spirit in me.
Foreign Goods (featuring Abby Jeanne) play the Milwaukee Fringe Festival Gazebo Stage this Saturday at 8 p.m. at Pere Marquette Park.
Devil Met Contention and the “Fire”
The first time I saw Devil Met Contention was at an art gallery opening at Hot Pop in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. They are an unmistakeable band to see live, as they perform in matching suits straight from the set of Mad Men.
“I think it helps everyone in the group feel like it’s showtime. I like the idea of showmanship and doing it for the audience,” frontman Ehson Rad said during the band’s “414 Live” performance at the 88Nine Radio Milwaukee studios.
Devil Met Contention released their first full-length in June, Fuel the Lights, a wonderful 9-track record that delves deep into the dust-laden realm of alt-country, fusing elements of folk and blues.
The band’s name comes from a three-word summary of the book Paradise Lost. Their penchant for literature comes across in the lyrics on the new record, which have an emphasis on storytelling.
The material on Fuel the Lights is darker than previous releases, including a song about the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the murder of a young black man at the hands of the police in the summer of 2014.
Tragically, at this point Devil Met Contention could record multiple albums worth of songs about slain black Americans. But when civil discontent over another police shooting exploded in their hometown they were compelled to revisit this subject matter.
The day after the Sherman Park turmoil they recorded a song called “Fire,” what they describe as “a reflection on the American struggle for peace and equality in Milwaukee, WI.”
Devil Met Contention will hit the road for their first tour starting August 24 at the Elbow Room in Chicago.
Reggie Bonds, Queen Tut respond to Sherman Park unrest
As Wisconsin hip-hop fans patiently wait for the release of Reggie Bond’s debut album From the Norf$ide w/ Love, the ferocious emcee has dropped a few singles and a new video. Recently, Bonds recorded the track “#PrayForMilwaukee” following the unrest in Sherman Park. The song features the voice of an affected youth at the beginning and end of the song, while in between Bonds paints a grim but honest picture of the inner-city.
Recent WiG feature artist Queen Tut recorded her own meditation on the turmoil in Milwaukee and across the nation, entitled “To: Black Man From: Moon.” Listen to the song here.
MAM After Dark’s Quiet Clubbing 2.0
Quiet clubbing (or “silent disco”) is an idea I’ve been intrigued by for some time, but haven’t had the opportunity to experience until last Friday at the Milwaukee Art Museum’s “MAM After Dark” series. It involves wearing wireless headphones that have dance music piped into them. This way, if someone were to stumble upon the scene they would see a bunch of people dancing in silence.
When I went to Montreal’s Osheaga Arts and Music Festival in 2014 there was a quiet clubbing tent, but by the time I went inside they had ditched the headphones. At the Eaux Claires festival in The Banks tent we were given headphones, but you could still hear the music without them.
MAM After Dark Quiet Clubbing 2.0 was a sold-out affair and we had to wait in line for about 15 minutes before receiving our headphones. There were two DJs spinning in the dance area, Bizzon and WhyB. We had the option to toggle between them, which had the effect of a DJ battle.
Bizzon is the co-host of 91.7 WMSE’s long-running Tuesday night hip-hop show “Those Hip-Hop Guys.” He stayed in his lane for the most part, playing old and new hip-hop tracks. WhyB was all over the board, relying on Top 40 songs and tapping into my generation’s nostalgia for pop hits of the early 2000s like Chumbawamba “Tubthumping.”
My girlfriend wasn’t a fan of the two DJ quiet clubbing format, or the headphones in general. She considered it to be isolating rather than unifying. I would have to agree. I’m not sure if I would attend another quiet clubbing event, but it was interesting to be sure. We actually had more fun going outside on the patio where 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s Marcus Doucette was spinning ‘80s hits and world music.
Lex Allen and the closing of Hotel Foster
Back in late May it was announced that Yield Bar on Milwaukee’s East Side would abruptly close. The owner cited a rise in rent and rumors started circulating that he was looking to move into the Hotel Foster’s space nearby, which was still open for business at the time. Hotel Foster denied the claims, but trouble seemed afoot, as their business had slowed down over the past six months or so, while rent seems to be rising on the East Side.
On August 10, the Hotel Foster announced that it would be closing and Saturday August 13 would be their last day. However, owner Doug Williams reopened last on Thursday for a previously scheduled event, Lex Allen’s “The Beaut Ball: Prom Edition.” The event featured performances from Chakara Blu, Sista Strings, and Allen’s New Age Narcissism collective. Attendees were encouraged to wear prom attire. I spotted an assortment of gorgeous dresses and at least one tuxedo t-shirt.
With the closing of Yield Bar and the Hotel Foster the East Side has lost two of its most vital live music venues. In its five year run, the Hotel Foster, lovingly referred to as “HoFo,” played an important role in Milwaukee’s musical renaissance.
The music series during the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival at HoFo featured a stellar array of the city’s best acts. Personally, HoFo holds a special place in my heart, as my girlfriend and I had our first conversation there after meeting on the red carpet walking out of the 2014 MKE Film Festival opening night party.
HoFo occasionally booked touring bands like Macaulay Culkin’s pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band (“Pizza Underground”) and Milwaukee-native turned cult rapper Juiceboxxx. It was also one of the venues that New Age Narcissism regularly played during their rise to prominence.
“Hotel Foster was one of the first venues I played that I felt was a good fit for me as an artist,” says Allen. “It has a persona and an intimate vibe. It is always fun and a little classy. Plus it is four blocks from my house.”
“But this is not the first or last event of its kind. Tonight was about people being themselves and shedding whatever script was put on them when they were born. Most of the artists tonight were from the LGBT community and I always want to put an emphasize on that in Milwaukee. There’s so much positivity going on in our city, despite what’s been in the news lately.”
Caley Conway and the Lucy Cukes release/farewell show
Another bittersweet event took place last Saturday night at Company Brewing as Caley Conway and the Lucy Cukes played an album release/farewell show. It’s a shame the breakup comes on the heels of their best work yet, a heartfelt, funny, touching 10-track bluegrass/folk record called Silk for Life.
We arrived at Company just in time to catch the beginning of Conway’s set. Despite an overly chatty crowd and some sound troubles, Conway and the band delivered a wonderful performance. Conway was actually one of the first people I met in the Milwaukee music scene, when I bought soup from her at the Milwaukee Public Market back in early 2014. She has one of the most heavenly voices in town and though she may be done with the Lucy Cukes, I’m sure we’ll hear more from Conway in the future.
New band debuts at Cactus Club’s 20th Anniversary
Amid the news of a beloved venue closing and a band breaking up, last Saturday night also saw the debut of a new group, Bad Grades, at Cactus Club’s 20th Anniversary party. Bad Grades is a side project led by Shane Hochstetler (Howl Street Recordings, Call Me Lightning) and Nathan Lilley (Call Me Lightning), which also includes Mike Gamm (Population Control), Nick Elert (Northless), and Chris Ortiz (Speed Freaks, Volcanos).
The band is rooted in hard punk, with elements of metal mixed in. The crowd anxiously anticipated their set and it didn’t take long for a mosh pit to form, albeit a three-person mosh. A perfectly good beer was sprayed on people nearby as the trio whipped around the room.
Though they weren’t throwing their bodies around, the rest of the crowd responded enthusiastically to Bad Grades. There was little evidence that it was the band’s first show. Given the success of this inaugural outing I suspect they’ll be booked on more upcoming shows, but so far their next gig will be the Rushmor Records Stage at Bay View Bash on September 17.
New track from Lorde Fredd33 + Q the Sun
Milwaukee’s Lorde Fredd33 and Q the Sun of the New Age Narcissism collective are responsible for my top Wisconsin album of the year, Dead Man’s View. Four months after releasing their debut full-length, the rapper/producer duo is back to bless us with a new track, “Danica Patrick.” In the opening of the song Fredd33 mocks the sing-song rapping dominating the airwaves and SoundCloud pages of today before launching into a banger, which they describe as “An Ode to strong women who do what they want. An ode to the guys that support it.”
Listen to the song here.
New video from Scallops Hotel
Speaking of top records, Rory Ferreira found himself on many national year-end best of 2015 lists for his stellar effort so the flies don’t come. That record was released under the Milo moniker, but he also put out the excellent Scallops Hotel record Plain Speaking earlier in 2015.
The Milwaukee-based rapsmith, beat maker, and Ruby Yacht label head has kept himself busy in 2016; touring the continent, supporting LA rapper and Hellfyre Club affiliate Busdriver in Europe, getting married, headlining the aforementioned Strange Fruit festival, supporting Soul Low at their record release show, and putting out last month’s too much of life is mood.
This non-traditional Scallops Hotel project was meant to be a cassette only release. It plays digitally as one 41-minute track of beautiful beats, samples, voice clips, modulated Henry Dumas poetry, and a healthy sprinkling of rap. Last week Ruby Yacht released a video from the project, which features Ferreira, his wife, and RY artists S.al and Randal Bravery.
Milo headlines the Milwaukee Fringe Festival Gazebo Stage this Sunday at 9 p.m. at Pere Marquette Park.
The man killed in a police shooting that sparked two nights of violence in Milwaukee suffered from cognitive and mental health issues, and he carried a gun because he had been shot more than once in the past, his grandfather said.
Sylville Smith had a lengthy criminal past, but was just trying to survive in the inner city, William Brookins told The Associated Press.
“In this city, there’s a lot of killings going on in the street,” said Brookins, who detailed Smith’s problems in a letter to a judge last year seeking mercy for his grandson. “He was afraid for his life. He was concerned about his safety and surviving.”
Smith, 23, was shot and killed Saturday after a brief foot chase that followed a traffic stop. Police say Smith was fleeing, and officials have said the officer’s body camera shows him being shot after he turned toward the officer with a gun in his hand.
CNN reported that the as-yet unnamed officer responsible for the shooting knew Sylville from high school.
“The officer knew him personally from high school and he still shot him,” Sylville Smith’s sister Sherelle Smith told CNN.
“He didn’t like my brother,” she said. “The officer had a career, but my brother was more popular. He used to harass Sylville.”
A source close to the family accused the young officer, who like Sylville Smith was a young African-American man, of having a “personal vendetta” against Smith.
A few hours after the shooting, violence erupted on the city’s largely black North Side, with protesters hurling rocks at police and burning six businesses. A lighter night of protests followed Sunday. Monday was calm, though 10 people were arrested. There were no reports of protesters gathering on Tuesday night.
The cost of damages to eight buildings during the riots could be in the millions, according to multiple sources. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, MPD Chief Edward Flynn and other leaders have blamed outside agitators, particularly from Chicago, for inciting the violence.
Flynn blamed a Chicago chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Party for upending what had begun as a peaceful demonstration on Aug. 13. Fourteen people were arrested. Three police officers and four sheriff’s deputies were hurt.
Run-ins with the law
Smith had several run-ins with the law dating to 2013, including speeding, driving without insurance, driving with a suspended license and having open alcohol in a vehicle.
In 2013, he was charged with felony retail theft for allegedly stealing $1,600 worth of DVDs from a Milwaukee Wal-Mart. According to a criminal complaint, Smith and another man were seen removing fans from their boxes and putting the DVDs in the boxes. Prosecutors later dismissed the charge.
A year later, he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, a misdemeanor. According to court documents, two officers on bike patrol approached Smith and his friends after smelling marijuana in their vehicle and found a loaded .45-caliber pistol under Smith’s shirt. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one day in jail.
In early 2015, Smith was charged with reckless endangerment, a felony. Investigators alleged he opened fire on a man in retaliation for the man’s role in a fight between some girls weeks earlier. According to a complaint, Smith and the man got into a car chase before the man finally stopped and ran on foot. Smith chased after the man and shot at him. He eluded Smith by hiding behind a house, according to the complaint.
As that case was pending, Smith was charged with felony intimidation of a witness — the man he was accused of shooting at. Prosecutors said he had his girlfriend call the man and pressure him to recant. The man did, according to prosecutors, who dropped both cases that year.
Brookins said his grandson’s criminal record was “nothing in comparison to other people.” He said Smith had never been convicted of a felony.
“That’s the law, OK,” Brookins said. “He’s not guilty.”
He described Smith as a good kid with a “beautiful personality.”
Smith was known for his hip-hop dance moves and trained in gymnastics when he was in middle school, Brookins said.
He also suffered from mental health issues, Brookins said. He declined to go into detail, saying only that Smith had problems with “comprehension and understanding” and spent time in special classes in elementary and middle school. In a letter to the judge in the reckless endangerment case, Brookins wrote that Smith was receiving Social Security payments because of his mental health problems.
Smith had been shot on more than one occasion, Brookins said. The last time was “a few years ago” when he was hit six times in front of his mother’s house. His grandfather did not have any information on what precipitated the shooting but said Smith still carried bullet fragments in his body.
Smith started carrying a gun after that incident.
“That really had a great effect on him and his fear of being hurt and the need to protect himself from people trying to do him harm,” Brookins said.
Milwaukee police could not immediately confirm Brookins’ account. A spokesman told The Associated Press to file a records request.
Smith’s mother, Mildred Haynes, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that her son had recently received his concealed-carry license because he had been shot twice and robbed four times, including a robbery in which he was stripped of all his clothes. He leaves behind a 2-year-old son.
“I’m not going to say he was an angel. He was out here living his life,” Smith’s godmother, Katherine Mahmoud, told the newspaper.
“It’s hard to grasp he’s no longer here,” Brookins said. “Oh, my God. This is terrible
Gov. Scott Walker’s troubled job agency has not created new jobs in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood, despite claiming credit for 483.
Citizen Action conducted a review of reporting by Gov. Scott Walker’s jobs agency and could verify no job creation in the area, which was the site of civil unrest over the weekend.
As Citizen Action of Wisconsin documented in its statement Tuesday on the Sherman Park civil unrest, the neighborhood has borne the brunt of the outsourcing and deindustrialization that has taken place since the 1970s.
Citizen Action’s review of the Wisconsin Economic Development Agency’s database found claims of creating 483 jobs in the area. But an investigation revealed that the companies named do not actually exist in the neighborhood.
WEDC’s map on their website lists eight companies in Sherman Park receiving tax credits or related programs. Only three of them claim to have created jobs.
But a review of the companies show they do not exist in the community, despite what is indicated on the WEDC map. All of the locations are listed with the same area on WEDC’s website, which is in fact residential neighborhood:
- Saelens Corporation, which received $400,000 in tax credits, is actually based closer to Menomonee Falls on Milwaukee’s far northwest side
- Novation Companies, which received $750,000 in tax credits, is actually based downtown and is selling its office to a California tech company.
- Merge Healthcare Inc., which received $500,000 in tax credits, was actually based in Hartland
Even if WEDC had created 483 jobs, that would not be nearly the scale of employment necessary to help the thousands of area residents who cannot find good jobs.
The revelation that Wisconsin flagship economic development agency is doing little to nothing for one of the most economically distressed areas in the United States is consistent with early reports by Citizen Action and others that it is emphasizing investments in wealthy suburbs. WEDC’s own website takes credit for impacting more jobs in Waukesha County (12,317) than Milwaukee County (11,889), despite Milwaukee’s much greater population and poverty rates.
Also, Walker choose to turn down over $800 million in federal money for high-speed rail, forcing a train manufacturer in the Sherman Park neighborhood to leave Wisconsin. This could have been an anchor for further economic development in the area.
“It is clear that Sherman Park and other economically devastated areas like it have been abandoned by Gov. Walker’s failed economic strategy,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “WEDC’s misrepresentations of its job creation efforts in Sherman Park are yet another affront to area residents, who simply want real economic opportunity and their fair share of the American dream.”
“For decades, jobs within Milwaukee’s industrial core have been lost to other countries and other communities. We know investment is deeply needed, yet we haven’t seen it — and now must find answers to where the state’s flagship jobs agency is actually making its investments,” said state Rep. Evan Goyke, whose district includes part of Sherman Park. “Where did the money actually go? As we move to build strong neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee, we are left asking questions about the state’s investment, which could be the economic foundation from which to rebuild prosperity in Milwaukee’s most economically distressed neighborhoods.”
Milwaukee, shaken by violence after a shooting by police, is one of a few U.S. cities to have volunteered for federal government review of its police force and may now be held to higher standards for how it responds.
Beginning in December, the review included a public “listening session” that, according to Milwaukee media, drew 700 people to a library auditorium to air their frustrations to U.S. Department of Justice officials.
Some community leaders said the weekend violence should result in a tougher review and real change.
“I would hope that the cries of the unheard … are now being heard around the country out of Milwaukee,” said Rev. Steve Jerbi, the lead pastor at All Peoples Church in the Wisconsin city of about 595,000 people.
The Obama administration has promoted a $10 million nationwide voluntary review program as a way to improve policing amid nationwide complaints of racial profiling and targeting. Milwaukee has become the latest U.S. city to experience discord after high-profile police killings of black men over the past two years.
The review in Milwaukee will look at issues such as use of force, the disciplinary system and diversity in hiring. The city was 45 percent white in the 2010 Census, while the police department is 68 percent white.
“Expectations of the report itself and of departmental compliance with the report are going to be raised,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies police behavior.
There is skepticism of how Milwaukee authorities will respond to federal recommendations, after past responses fell short of demands.
Fred Royal, president of the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch, noted that the recommendations would not be legally binding, unlike those for cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, where police use of deadly force and other practices were being scrutinized under so-called consent decrees — settlements without a final ruling by a judge.
“They don’t have the teeth that a consent decree has,” Royal said.
Businesses were torched and gunfire erupted in Milwaukee after the shooting on Saturday of a black man, Sylville K. Smith, 23. Police said he refused to drop a handgun when he was killed, and on Monday, the city imposed a curfew.
“My experience with the Milwaukee Police Department has been that it is a department in desperate need of fundamental change,” said Flint Taylor, a Chicago civil rights lawyer who has sued Milwaukee over police tactics.
A spokesman for the Milwaukee Police Department said officials were not available for an interview.
Police Chief Edward Flynn has said previously that his department has made progress and can withstand scrutiny.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said officials there declined an interview request.
The Justice Department is expected to release its findings within about two months. Milwaukee could then receive outside assistance and monitoring for up to two years.
Making the challenge tougher are deep problems of poverty and segregation in Milwaukee, the 31st largest city in the United States.
Milwaukee was ranked as the most segregated city in America by the Brookings Institution last year and in the neighborhood where the rioting took place more than 30 percent of people live in poverty.
Residents have protested past police shootings, such as the 2014 killing in which an unarmed, mentally ill black man, Dontre Hamilton, was shot 14 times. An officer was dismissed but no one was charged.
In 2011, another black man, Derek Williams, died in the back of a Milwaukee police car after he told officers he could not breathe and needed help, according to a lawsuit his family filed. The city has not responded to the lawsuit.
And in January this year, Milwaukee officials approved a $5 million settlement with 74 black men who said they had been subjected to illegal strip and cavity searches.
Las Vegas, which volunteered for the same federal program after a series of shootings there in 2011, was handed a list of 75 findings and recommendations by the Justice Department, and 18 months later it had completed 90 percent of the recommendations, the department said.
Philadelphia and San Francisco are among other cities under review.
Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou Contini and Grant McCool.
In response the Wisconsin Department of Justice declaring it will not release video footage of the officer-involved fatal shooting in Milwaukee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin again called for transparency in the investigation of the underlying incident. ACLU executive director Chris Ahmuty wrote the following letter to Attorney General Brad Schimel:
Dear Attorney General Schimel,
It is time for you and your agency to give the public more information about your investigation into the officer-involved fatal shooting of Mr. Sylville Smith on August 13, 2016 in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.
In an August 14, 2016 news release you stated “The Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), at the request of the Milwaukee Police Department, is leading the investigation of yesterday’s officer involved death. DOJ will work expeditiously to ensure a thorough and transparent gathering of the facts.” According to an August 16, 2016 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, your spokesperson said, “In recognition of the violence that has affected Milwaukee residents for the last 48 hours, DOJ is working expeditiously, and within the parameters of the law, to provide the community a transparent view of the events that took place on August 13 in a timely manner. However, we are not prepared to release any of the video evidence at this time.”
To date you have promised transparency, but provided little information on your investigation to the community and Mr. Smith’s grieving family and friends, who seek understanding of the deadly incident that transpired on August 13.
In your news release and your spokesperson’s statement as reported in the media, you don’t even mention Sylville Smith’s name. It is important for you to recognize that a Milwaukee police officer has killed a specific person, with family, friends and neighbors.
You have said that you will not “release any of the video evidence at this time.” Failure to timely release video of similar incidents has been a source of unrest in Chicago, leading officials there to adopt a policy of prompt release of video. Note that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has already expressed conclusions drawn from a video the public has not been allowed to see.
You have remained silent regarding a host of other questions that would help the public ascertain whether your agency is conducting “a thorough and transparent gathering of facts.” We ask that you please answer the following questions about your investigation:
- Are any of the investigators/analysts assigned to this case former Milwaukee Police Department employees?
- Has DCI interviewed the officer(s) who encountered Mr. Smith on August 13? If so, when were the officers interviewed?
- Has DCI or MPD interviewed neighbors/witnesses?
- Who gets access to Smith’s companion (Is he in custody? Does he have an attorney?)
- Does DCI have the body worn camera(s) (BWC)? Does it have access to evidence.com?
- Did the officer or other witnesses review the BWC or dash cam video before your agents interviewed them?
- Was the officer given a blood test?
- What was the basis for the stop? Are there radio communications that would reflect the basis for the stop?
- Is there audio from the dash cam or from nearby Shotspotter microphones?
- When will the medical examiner issue a report?
Nearly all of these questions are procedural and address aspects of your gathering of facts. None call for details regarding the evidence, much less conclusions.
Please answer these questions. If you refuse to answer any of these questions, please let me know your justification for refusing at this time.
Thank you. I hope to hear from you shortly.
Milwaukee: Citizen Action of Wisconsin executive director Robert Kraig made the following statement on the civil unrest that exploded over the weekend after another young black man lost his life:
Our hearts go out to all the residents of Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood who have experienced this weekend’s civil unrest, to the family of the young man who lost his life, and to the peace officers who have put their lives on the line to protect public safety.
As public order is restored, it is important we take stock of what happened, and what we have to do together to create a Wisconsin where everyone has an equal chance to live a fulfilling life.
Although the violence and property destruction seemed spontaneous to outsiders, for many African American residents it was a predictable outpouring of frustration flowing from unbearable racial inequality and exclusion. Shocking statistics support this, as the Milwaukee metro area has for many years consistently ranked among the worst in the country for African Americans across a variety of indicators including, segregation, incarceration rates, black male nonemployment, child poverty and many others.
African Americans in Milwaukee, who came during the Great Migration to work and work hard and claim their piece of the American Dream, where drawn by the plentiful opportunities to work in union manufacturing jobs. They have borne the brunt of deindustrialization since the late 1970s. According to the UWM Center for Economic Development, the percentage of African Americans working in manufacturing declined from 54.3 percent in 1970 to 14.7 percent in 2009.
Many leaders in the Milwaukee area seem to see this as a natural phenomenon beyond our control. But the economy is not a natural disaster or an extreme weather event beyond our agency to influence, it is human made. What has been lacking in Milwaukee is the courage and vision to fight for solutions up to the scale of the problem.
Once the dust is settled in Sherman Park, the question will be which public officials, which community leaders, which corporate leaders are willing to stand up and fight for public interventions at the scale necessary to end Wisconsin’s system of economic apartheid and truly guarantee full opportunity for everyone in our great state. This means striving to create an economy where everyone who wants a good jobs can find one near their local community.
Citizen Action of Wisconsin and our over 12,000 members in the Milwaukee area look forward to continuing to work with everyone in the community who wants to work toward economic and social transformation.
Citizen Action of Wisconsin is an issue focused coalition of individuals and organizations committed to achieving social, economic, and environmental justice.
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The National Guard has been put on standby to assist the Milwaukee Police Department — if needed — after protests last night turned violent in the city’s Sherman Park neighborhood, said Mayor Tom Barrett during a news conference this afternoon.
Barrett said Gov. Scott Walker decided to call for federal assistance after consulting with him by telephone; but the decision on whether to deploy the National Guard would be made by MPD Chief Edward Flynn, who is monitoring the situation.
Barrett said he’d never seen anything in Milwaukee like the melee that broke out yesterday near North 35th Street and West Burleigh, where several businesses — including a BMO Harris Bank branch, a beauty supply company and O’Reilly Auto Parts stores — were set on fire.
“Last night was unlike anything I have ever seen in my adult life in this city. I hope I never see it again,” said the mayor, who was visibly shaken.
The riotous situation was sparked by the fatal police shooting of a man yesterday. He was running from police after his car was stopped due to what MPD called “suspicious” behavior.
As many as 800 protesters clashed with police officers for several hours last night before police were able to bring the situation under control. Four officers were injured during the standoff with the crowd, and some media outlets reported that shots were fired by protesters at the police. Barrett and other officials said the riot was fueled by calls for action on social media.
Milwaukee has avoided eruptions of violence following police shootings of unarmed black men in the city and elsewhere over the past two years. City officials expressed disappointment about yesterday’s tragic events.
According to some officials, recent years have seen progress in the predominantly black Sherman Park area. Several dozen volunteers associated with the Coalition for Justice assisted the city this morning with cleaning up the rubble left from last night’s riots, according to The Associated Press
At this afternoon’s news conference, Flynn identified the man killed as 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith, who has a “lengthy arrest record,” according to police. Barrett said that a still image pulled from a video of the shooting recorded by body camera shows “without question” that Smith had a gun in his hand when he was shot. Barrett said the video is part of a vigorous state investigation of the shooting.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel promised today that the state’s Department of Justice would quickly to come to a conclusion about whether there’s any criminal culpability in Smith’s death. Unlike similar high-profile shootings, in this case both Smith and the officer who shot him are African American.
Police said the semi-automatic gun that Smith was carrying was stolen in Waukesha.
It remains unclear whether Smith was threatening police or just seeking to elude them at the time he was shot. Barrett said a thorough examination of the footage taken from the officer’s body camera is underway to assess exactly how the killing unfolded.
Both the victim and the officer who shot him are black.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore was among the leaders who’ve called for peace tonight on Milwaukee’s streets.
“As details continue to emerge about this shooting, I ask our community to remain calm and recommit to doing everything in our collective power to live up to our nation’s promise of ‘justice for all.’ Together, Milwaukee will weather this storm,” Moore said in a press statement.
“I share the frustration of my constituents who feel they live in a city where justice is only afforded to some and not all. I also share the frustration of our local police officers who are desperately trying to uphold public safety in what they perceive as a caustic climate. We must find a way to strike a balance where we can peacefully point out the racial inequities in our society while recognizing the valuable role police play in our community.
Moore and others called on leaders to address the social issues beneath incidents such as Saturday’s.
“We simply cannot close our eyes to the hostile environment cultivated by the flagrant racial inequality and segregation that has plagued Milwaukee for generations,” Moore said.
Many people — public officials, religious leaders and ordinary citizens — weighed in about yesterday’s shooting on social media.
Milwaukee Ald. Khalif Rainey posted a statement last night that was shared by many on Facebook today.
“The city has watched this particular neighborhood (Sherman Park), throughout the entire summer, be a powder keg. From incidents in the park, to shootings, this entire community has witnessed how Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has become the worst place to live for African Americans in the entire country. Now this is the warning cry,” Rainey wrote.
“Where do we go as a community from here? Do we continue with the inequity, the injustice, the unemployment, the under-education that creates these byproducts that we see this evening? Do we continue that?
“Something has to be done here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to address these issues. The black people of Milwaukee are tired of living under oppression. This is their existence. This is their life, and the lives of their children.
What happened tonight was not right, I am not justifying that. But no one can deny the fact that there are racial problems here that have to be rectified.”