By Karen Stokes and Dylan Deprey
Days after the unrest that devastated the Sherman Park neighborhood in Milwaukee, the events of last Saturday are now being discussed and scrutinized locally as well as nationally. Whether seeking the truth, spreading rumors, searching for answer or working on solutions, Sherman Park is top of mind.
To fully comprehend the reasons why the chaos occurred, one must first not only look to the recent history of last Saturday but the whole history of African Americans in Milwaukee.
The city of Milwaukee erupted in mayhem and violence Saturday night in the Sherman Park neighborhood after the fatal police shooting of Sylville Smith, an African American man.
According to the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). During a traffic stop, Smith (24), fled the suspicious vehicle with a firearm in his hand. Smith was shot twice, in the chest and arm.
After the fatal shooting protesters took to the streets and the violence began. Bricks were thrown at police officers, and four police were injured. Several businesses were vandalized and burned including the BP gas station on Sherman and Burleigh, BMO Harris Bank on Fond Du Lac, O’Reilly Auto Parts and Jet Beauty.
Seventeen people were arrested.
On Sunday morning, groups of citizens gather to clean up the aftermath of the destruction. Hundreds from the community came out to express their concerns, fears and console each other for the turbulence that has invaded their community.
“I’m so sad, horrified and heartbroken at the way this happened. I’ve been a native of Milwaukee for 53 years,” said Sherman Park resident Dena Reilly. “I’m scared. All we can do is take care of ourselves and keep our loved ones close.”
Teachers like Tyson Randolph came out to show support. Randolph was a permanent substitute at Roosevelt Creative Arts Middle School. Randolph explained that the teenagers and young adults responsible for the charred gas station was a lack of education. He noted all the distractions children have whether it’s a lack of parenting to lack of food on the table. He said that when kids worry about home and their neighborhood there is zero room for education.
He lives in Greendale now, but comes back to Sherman Park neighborhood where he grew up to help out and play with kids.
“Sometimes I don’t even know the kids but they just need to know at a young age that somebody loves them,” Randolph said.
He also said that the Sherman Park neighborhood used to be a great neighborhood and the community needed to teach kids to take pride in it.
“These kids only know that the Boys and Girls Club gets shut down at a certain time every night and they don’t understand how dangerous it is for them to be outside,” Randolph said. “We need to engage with these children.”
Pastors urged their congregations to come to Sherman Park for clean up, prayer and to reach out to residents.
“I love how some of our clergy are for the community,” said one resident.
The pain people were feeling was obvious, especially from the family of Sylville Smith.
“I feel terrible, I don’t know what else to say, obviously the police wins every time,” said the brother of Sylville Smith. “I don’t know what to do right now, I don’t know what to think.”
Nate Hamilton and the Coalition for Justice also came out to clean up and promote positivity throughout the community. Hamilton said that although burning down a gas station was not the right choice, the people’s voices were heard.
“This is what it takes to come out and respect them,” Hamilton said. “People need resources and the reason they commit these crimes is just to survive the day to day.”
He added that the many injustices involved with police involved shootings fueled the anger of those who took to the streets Friday night. Hamilton knows the feeling of trying to find answers after a Milwaukee Police officer shot his brother, Dontre Hamilton, in 2014.
“They need a better process for families when going through these traumatic experiences,” Hamilton said.
The Coalition for Justice later protested in front of Milwaukee Police Department District 7 building on Fond Du Lac Avenue. They blocked off the street and were met with a wall of police officer and rifles on the roof. They then marched past the windowless and charred BMO Harris Bank towards Burleigh St.
Sunday night protesters took to the streets again with police ready. There was conflict between protestors and police. Flying bricks hurt seven police officers. Three police squads were damaged as well as one car, a couch and multiple dumpsters set on fire. On top of that another store was vandalized. There were 14 arrests made for disorderly conduct.
Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn and Mayor Barrett held a news conference where the mayor mandated a strictly enforced 10 p.m. curfew for those under the age of 18. Anyone violating the curfew would be fined.
There was less tension in the Sherman Park neighborhood on Monday night. The park closed at 6pm and teens appeared to have respected the 10pm curfew.
Mayor Barrett said the curfew on minors would be in effect as long as needed.
Milwaukee Police Department said that there were 41 arrests, and two people were shot over the weekend.
The events from this past weekend did not occur in a vacuum. The poverty, incarceration, crime, mental health issues, unemployment rates and unarmed Black man being murdered by police and no one has been held accountable, the problems had been mounting.
The statistics illustrate reasons for anger and frustration to a community seeking solutions that have been a long time coming. There isn’t a need for more reports and studies on the conditions that exists in the Milwaukee African American community for people to understand the problems. The community sees and lives it everyday.
In a press conference Alderman Khalif Rainey said that Milwaukee is the worst place to live for African Americans in the entire country. A May 2016 National Urban League report examined economic data in 70 cities and found Milwaukee has the largest gap in unemployment between Blacks and whites in the country and the second biggest income gap. In 2015, 17.3 percent of Blacks in Milwaukee were unemployed compared to 4.3 percent of whites.
The 2010 U.S. Census shows that Wisconsin has the highest percentage of Black male incarceration in the country. The rate of incarceration destroys families and communities.
“Last night was one of those things you can’t sweep under the rug anymore. Years of frustration with Derrick Williams, James Perry, Corey Stingley, Dontre Hamilton, Brandon Johnson…the list goes on, then 101 Black men were molested and strip searched in the streets so years of trust deteriorating whatever trust was there broke last night,” said Tory Lowe, community organizer.”
“When it comes to injustice and police misconduct we have always went to the courts, peacefully protested and now after Saturday, the string broke and we are tired of getting killed in the streets,” Lowe said. “If they are not going to bring real solutions, it’s only going to get worse.”
A few weeks ago groups of Sherman Park residents and the owner of the BP gas station met at a community Block Party to discuss their issues. There seemed to be progress then Saturday night the gas station was burnt to the ground by a crowd angry about the shooting that happened earlier that day.
Amar Kaleka, film director and nephew of the BP station owner said, “His uncle believes the rioters weren’t targeting him, the riot was a byproduct of things happening in the city.
Kaleka family is a member of the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, in 2012 a terrorist shooting from white supremacist Michael Page from Cudahy Wisconsin of six people of the Sikh church. Kaleka’s father, Satwant Singh Kaleka 65, founder of the Sikh temple was murdered while fighting with the gunman.
“There needs to be an open dialog between the community and the police,” Kaleka said. “The peace process just started. I’ve seen it at Sikh, the same hope is there for Sherman Park.
Alderman Rainey urged the community to “put down the bricks and put away the guns. We need to pick up some brooms and paintbrushes and get to work. We need to get our kids off the streets and teach them to act out of love and hope instead of fear and anger. We need to stop creating additional problems and start seeking solutions.
“If you’re angry, good; it means you’re paying attention. Once we’ve restored peace in our neighborhoods, I hope you will join us in the work of creating opportunity and equality for all of Milwaukee’s citizens,” Rainey said.
For right now it appears that the violence is at rest and the time for healing has begun.
As one Sherman Park resident summed the situation up as “Some view what happened as a riot, others a revolution but most are looking for solutions, people want to see something positive happen.”