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Sherman Park Uprising: What Happened? And What’s Next?

Local leaders weigh in on the neighborhood’s future

Aug. 23, 2016
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Photo via the Associated Press

Milwaukee is still coming to terms with the officer-involved fatal shooting of Sylville Smith following a traffic stop and the reaction to it in Sherman Park over the weekend of Aug. 13. We asked local leaders about their thoughts as the events transpired and how we can help Milwaukee’s struggling residents and neighborhoods.

“Sherman Park really is a vibrant, diverse, beautiful neighborhood, and unique in a lot of ways. It truly is one of the most racially, economically and religiously integrated neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Sherman Park was defiant of red lining and of segregation long before I was born and it really has carried that characteristic through to today. It gives me absolute hope about today and tomorrow and a year from now because of the strength of that community.” —state Rep. Evan Goyke

“I think that we have got to own that race is a problem and police catch a really, really awful straw with that. They are sent out to police in an environment where the conditioning is such that you are suspicious because you are driving while young and black. This is the concern and the frustration.” —Congresswoman Gwen Moore

“That created a boiling point. You have people who live in the inner city, especially high-crime areas, who feel like they are being targeted and discriminated against. And they are. And the reason why they are is because they live in a high-crime area. In high-crime areas, police combat the crime by saturating those areas with officers as much as possible. And then they stop you for minor violations because they’re trying to get access to cars. They’re trying to find illegal guns and take them off the streets. For the law-abiding citizens, they want the police there because they don’t want to be the next unintended target or intended target. But for the individuals who live in those communities, some of our African American males who may not necessarily be breaking the law but they fit a particular description or they live in an area, they get pulled over all the time by various officers because it’s their commute to and from work. That creates a boiling point. I feel like we’re constantly putting both the police and the community at each other’s throats.” —state Rep. LaTonya Johnson

“The mission of the Milwaukee Police Department is to partner with the community to create and maintain neighborhoods capable of sustaining civic life. We are committed to reducing the levels of fear, crime and disorder through community-based, problem-oriented and data-driven policing. This has been our guiding principle for the past nine years and overall, crime has been reduced, use of force by officers has declined and citizen complaints have also declined. The Milwaukee Police Department strives to improve its level of service and legitimacy especially in neighborhoods that need us the most.” —Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn  

“Our police department, at a time when shots were being fired and rocks were being thrown at their heads, did not fire a single shot. That is extraordinary. Think about that. If you can hear gunfire and if you see rocks coming at your head, to keep your cool in that situation. I have extraordinary praise for their professionalism and their restraint.” —Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

“I for example love one of the bills [that Moore introduced in May] that the ACLU says while we have gone off for vacation it’s one of the six bills that we must look at when we get back in session. It’s a bill to tie the receipt of Byrne JAG Department of Justice funds to police de-escalation training. Right now they spend very little time on any de-escalation training of officers, mostly it’s how to shoot.”—Congresswoman Gwen Moore

“We need to change our police modeling from what they consider the warrior model to the guardian model. We have suggested they follow the Cincinnati model, which is the one that is the basis for President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. In Cincinnati there has been a consent decree for the last 10 years and they have been applying that consent decree to try this problem-oriented police model and have had some great success, in my opinion, that I think we could replicate here if we find the political will to do it. The other thing is that we have to look at the economics. We have to apply the equal rights laws, the administration of the equal rights laws, as they are written. We don’t need to invent anything new.” —Fred Royal, president, Milwaukee Chapter of the NAACP

“More resources of course are going to be important. The city has limited resources. I am going to be meeting with state legislators [on Friday, Aug. 19] on issues ranging from the role of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to the $25 million that the state received several years ago in the foreclosure settlement. I’m still interested in having those dollars used in Sherman Park and other parts of the city that have been hit by foreclosure. If we can craft together a reconstruction, demolition, remodeling program in those neighborhoods and have the state and the federal government play a part of this, I think we can move these neighborhoods forward.” —Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

“The moment those buildings started ablaze, the moment the National Guard came in, [I thought] what does that mean legislatively for Milwaukee? Because you are going to get electeds who feel that they need to step in and take over because Milwaukee is doing a poor job of legislating for Milwaukee. But some of those people have never walked Milwaukee streets other than to go to the Bucks arena or Miller Park. I’m more concerned about what legislation we might potentially get, what that might look like for Milwaukee and how that is going to affect our poor families and those individuals who are convicted felons. I’m sure that there are going to be some harsh pieces of legislation that are going to come down the pipeline. How do we even protect Milwaukee from it?” —state Rep. LaTonya Johnson

“I’m ready to go. I’m working on a bill I’m confident we’re going to make some strong movement on which relates to expungement or clearing criminal records. We have a very outdated process in Wisconsin. It’s unique to America. There are some simple changes [we can make] that would open the possibility of clearing criminal records for thousands and thousands of people. I think that’s a really great change. Is that a direct response to what has happened in Sherman Park? Absolutely not. But it’s a small policy change as part of a larger recognition of inequalities in the justice system. And it could make a lifetime positive impact for residents of that immediate neighborhood.” —state Rep. Evan Goyke

“Be involved in your neighborhood. That means both with community members and the police. Each month, each police district has a community meeting. I know there is a national narrative out there but I want Milwaukee to be different. I want this to be a city where there are good police-community relations. I know it’s hard. Also, spend money in these neighborhoods. This is about economic life as well. The stronger the businesses are, the more jobs are going to be created. And employ people from these neighborhoods too.”—Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 

“What we do next is not to go into denial. Don’t brush it under the rug. I’m not suggesting that anyone is doing that, but I think the human condition is to want to revert back when things are hard. We need to stay awake, individually and collectively. Come together in partnership. Think about how we can create peace and solve the suffering. This is not some abstract idea. There is some suffering happening. Extreme poverty. Segregation. Lack of opportunities, which creates hopelessness. And people die from that. We have to change that.” —Carmen Pitre, executive director, Sojourner Family Peace Center

“Now is the time to support longtime community leaders and community-based organizations that have been working to counteract the very real, systemic inequities that persist in our city. There are many such leaders and organizations that are doing important work. Fondy, specifically, works to increase food and economic justice by creating access to local, healthy food and goods grown and made by small producers. Come to Fondy Farmers Market and participate in positive cross-cultural and generational sharing with your fellow Milwaukeeans. Support your local small farmers and business owners (when producers sell locally, they create more than four times the number of jobs and keep more than three times the dollars in the local economy!). You can also support Fondy, and other initiatives, by donating your time or money. As a community, we need to devote more resources to the common good.” —Jennifer Casey, executive director, Fondy Farmers Market 

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