Youth organize rally against violence

By Cassandra Lans

BP gas station co-owner Jay Walia addresses the crowd at Tuesday evening’s rally and march against violence. Other speakers included (l to r), Sen. Lena Taylor, Ald. Willie Wade, Ald. Nik Kovac, Ald. Ashanti Hamilton, Supervisor Willie Johnson, Jr., Ald. Milele Coggs and rally organizer Michael Hagler. (Photo by Robert A. Bell)

Young people in Milwaukee organized a rally and march on Tuesday evening, July 12 to demonstrate unity against violence in the aftermath of the BP gas station mob looting and attacks that occurred at the BP gas station on Humboldt and North on July 3rd.

Dozens of young people were joined by local city officials, community organizers, parents and the co-owner of the BP gas station that was looted, Jay Walia expressed their disappointment in the mob looting and violent attacks that occurred in this Riverwest neighborhood two weeks ago.

“These young people are here today, to remind us that not all young people are like the ones that were seen on the news, and in the media looting and attacking innocent people. There are plenty of good young people who live in this area and are elsewhere in Milwaukee that are about being positive and who can organize and be responsible.” Senator Lena Taylor expressed during the rally.

Alderwoman Milele Coggs and Alderman Nik Kovac both represent the Riverwest neighborhood in their districts, both spoke at the rally and march with the young people as well.

“While I was asked to be here to speak on behalf of the Common Council I am also joined by Ald. Kovac who shares the Riverwest district with me. Though we have a district that is divided into two representatives, the two of us are united in how we represent this area.” Coggs stated.

Ald. Nik Kovac’s district is where the BP gas station is located, and yet Coggs’ portion is just across the street. Kovac spoke to the crowd, and stated, “Riverwest is a diverse community, representing a variety of ages, and races. This is the kind of neighborhood that has the future of Milwaukee in it–not segregated. Every city, and in every family there are some negative things that sometimes come out. We are here today, united to say we do not want this type of behavior to ever happen again here, and we are marching together to let people know that it will not be tolerated”.

Michael Hagler better known in the community as ‘Big Mike’ was one of the organizers for the rally and march and has organized others throughout the city. Big Mike/STOP (Students Taking On Prevention) the Violence worked to help bring out these dozens of young people (about 100) on this Tuesday evening to demonstrate that the majority of young people are not like the ones that were shown looting, and attacking people.

Also at the rally was recording artist Que, who spoke and marched as well, and later performed at the end of the march in the park to encourage these young people to stay on the right course and be positive.

BP gas station co-owner Jay Walia spoke and thanked law enforcement for their quick response, he stated that he realizes that there are still some improvements that are needed within the city’s police department, but he says that since Chief Flynn has been in charge the response time has been faster. He also expressed thanks to the officers that stopped and helped at his store after the attack. He also acknowledged that since the incident, people in the neighborhood have had an extra eye open on his business. “The people here in the neighborhood have shown me and my business great concern, and they check on us quite often, since the incident.” Walia stated.

State representative Leon Young, who had released a statement last week regarding his concern and disappointment in the actions of those who perpetrated the looting and attacks shared with the crowd his thoughts as well.

“I grew up in this area, and the behavior that occurred on July 3rd is not how this community behaves. I would like to applaud all the parents and others who recognized various individuals on the looting video tape and for turning them in to the police. These individuals need to be punished. And I encourage any one else who knows of anyone who participated in that incident to also do the right thing and turn them in.” Young stated.

Tracey Dent of the Peace for Change Alliance who is also a youth organizer said that this rally and march is not a Black thing or a White thing, it affects everyone. “This is about everyone getting involved, it’s not just up to the police, we need to help the police. They need us and we need them, the community needs to come together, all men need to come back home and take care of their business. Adults need to invest in the youth.” Dent said.

The rally ended with a prayer, and the releasing of balloons that represented the victims from the July 3rd incident and for peace in the community.

In his prayer the minister stated that the ‘no snitch code’ that some young people have needs to stop, and people need to hold each other accountable. He also stated that other pastors from throughout this city need to come out from their walls and get involved directly with the community. He ended by stating that it only takes one match to start a forest fire, and that his hope is that this march is the one match that lights a fire in people and the community to act against violence and for peace.