Tensions Remain High In Milwaukee After Weekend Of Unrest

Aug 15, 2016
Originally published on August 15, 2016 6:19 pm
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Milwaukee officials are imposing a 10 p.m. curfew tonight for teenagers and calling for calm after two nights of demonstrations against the police that at times turned violent. The weekend protests and damage were sparked by the police shooting Saturday of a 23-year-old black man, Sylville Smith. Police say Smith was fleeing a traffic stop and that he was armed. From Milwaukee, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is warning parents and teenagers here that after two nights in which protesters took to the streets with some throwing bottles, rocks and bricks and even firing gunshots, police tonight will enforce a 10 o'clock curfew for those under the age of 18.

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TOM BARRETT: This is not the place where you go to gawk. It is not the place you go to take pictures. It's not the place you go to drive your car around.

SCHAPER: Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn says community and church leaders will join police officers tonight to help keep the peace.

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CHIEF EDWARD FLYNN: We're going to continue to deploy our officers in a tactically restrained but nonetheless effective manner in order to take control when necessary.

SCHAPER: Flynn says the officer that shot 23-year-old Sylville Smith was black, like Smith, and body cam video that has not yet been released shows that he fired only after Smith turned toward the officer with a gun in his hand. Flynn acknowledges, though, that the shooting is a flashpoint for long-simmering tensions between the police and residents of predominantly black neighborhoods on the city's north side, the scene of other incidents involving police.

Two years ago, an officer shot and killed an unarmed 31-year-old man with mental illness, and the Justice Department is working with Milwaukee to implement policing reforms. But Mayor Tom Barrett says the violent response on Saturday hurts a neighborhood in desperate need of revitalization.

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BARRETT: We know we have to have more jobs in the community. We know there has to be more investment, and you'd have to be crazy to think that this activity is in any way helping that. It is hurting those efforts.

SCHAPER: That sentiment is shared by many living in the stately brick homes with well-manicured lawns in the Sherman Park neighborhood on Milwaukee's north side, where Linda Jordan is watering her freshly planted boxwoods and lilies.

LINDA JORDAN: I'm just kind of like flooded with emotions. I'm just really, really sad and embarrassed - embarrassed, you know?

SCHAPER: The 59-year-old Jordan is a retired pastor who also worked for the Social Security Administration.

JORDAN: The helicopters that were going over the whole weekend just made me go back to my childhood with the riots in the '60s, you know? And I know that it didn't work then, and it's not going to work now.

ALEX DIGGS: All right, guys. Let's go up here and finish working - trash, trash, trash.

SCHAPER: Jordan shares the frustrations over the lack of jobs and opportunities for many black residents throughout Milwaukee, so, too, does 15-year-old Alex Diggs. He's part of a group of teenagers today cleaning up the pieces of broken bottles and other debris from the protests. He says the anger is real among residents here who feel they don't have a lot going for them, and the tensions have been rising in recent months.

ALEX: Ever since the past couple of shootings we've had this summer, there's been a lot of anger and unrest in the streets.

SCHAPER: But Diggs disagrees with the violent tactics of some protesters.

ALEX: This isn't the movement they say they're doing. This isn't Black Lives Matter. This is honestly just a lot of people taking advantage of a bad situation and putting a label on it like it's a - like a way to cope with their anger.

SCHAPER: The solution...

ALEX: There just needs to be a change besides everybody tearing each other down. We all need to work together and build up our community.

SCHAPER: While Digg says it makes no sense for young African-Americans to tear down their own community, he too doesn't have a clear answer for how to best deal with the continuing tensions. David Schaper, NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.