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Driving While Black in Milwaukee—The Victims Speak Out

Issue of the Week

Sep. 11, 2014
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Last Thursday’s Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission meeting was adjourned when demonstrators showed up to demand the release of the name of the Milwaukee police officer who fatally shot Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park in April.

But before the commissioners called a halt to their hearing, they were debating police procedures for stopping and questioning residents.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn defended his officers, saying that the department targets high-crime areas and complaints about cops’ stops have decreased.

But community members stepped forward to explain what it’s like to face racial profiling while driving around Milwaukee.

One of them was Tracey Dent, a community activist who ran for state Assembly in August.

“I was stopped three weeks ago,” Dent testified. “I just turned a corner and a police officer looked at my face, made a U-turn, and pulled me over. So if that’s not racial profiling, I don’t know what it is. He said that my light was out. But it wasn’t.”

Dent said that the MPD needed to have an open forum about consent searches because it’s causing a rift between the police and the black community. He said he cringes every time he sees a police officer because he’s afraid he’s going to be pulled over for no reason.

“This is real,” Dent said. “This is reality. You might look at data. I’m looking at human beings.”

Debra Jenkins said the she frequently drives her granddaughter home from her job at Potawatomi to the Sherman Park area. She said the MPD has saturated that corridor with squad cars and motorcycles. 

“If this isn’t setting a trap, I don’t know what a trap is,” Jenkins said. “We need to have this area looked at. I understand that crime is on a rampage in that area. But crime is everywhere. And we do not need to have police officers just sitting there, idle, waiting to catch someone that is my color.”

We call on Flynn and the Fire and Police Commission to take a long, hard look at who they’re stopping, and why. Consider the human cost of these policies, not merely the data. Milwaukeeans shouldn’t have to fear being stopped and interrogated by the police simply for driving while black.

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