By Dylan Deprey
Do Black rights matter in Milwaukee? Do Black lives matter in Milwaukee?
What if one asked Dontre Hamilton’s family?
What about the 70 men subject to forced strip searches over a matter of two years?
The Milwaukee Police Department’s vision is “A Milwaukee where all can live safely and without fear, protected by a police department with the highest ethical and professional standards.”
Though the word “ethical” is in their vision clearly displayed on their website, very few in the Black Community trust the Milwaukee Police Department, or let alone feel safe or respected when interacting with police officers.
On Wed. Feb. 22, the ACLU of Wisconsin and six individuals have filed a federal lawsuit, Collins v. City of Milwaukee to confront MPD’s stop-and-frisk practices.
“Maybe my minivan was too black. Maybe I was too Black. Maybe there were too many Black men in one car for us not to be up to no good,” said Caleb Roberts, one of the Plaintiffs in an ACLU blog post released Feb. 22.
In the post, Roberts recounted the night that has been permanently ingrained his memories, while driving back from Summerfest with friends.
After driving past an MPD squad car, seconds later the car whipped a U-Turn and was quickly on his tail flashing blue and red lights in his rear view.
“Four cops got out of the squad cars, and came toward my minivan with flashlights on and guns drawn. In that moment, suddenly the world didn’t make sense,” Roberts said in the post.
One officer told him his registration was faulty. Another told his friend it was because it appeared to be reaching for something in the backseat. The third was because the person in the backseat was not wearing a seat belt.
“None of it felt right. None of it was right. We were young people coming home from a concert. And we were terrified.”
Roberts’ story was just another added to the others that have been reported before his.
“Some might say we were lucky. But if being lucky means not being physically hurt or killed by police when you’re stopped for no reason, then that’s a terrible commentary on policing in Milwaukee and our country,” Roberts said.
The lawsuit, against the fire and police commission and Chief Flynn, stated that African Americans and Latinos were targeted in routine traffic stops without cause, which is a violation of the 4th and 14th amendments.
In a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn, Chief Flynn denied MPD using ‘stop and frisk’ practices, or quotas for traffic stops. He added that traffic stops in high crime areas were proven to reduce non-fatal shootings, robberies and motor vehicle thefts.
“No discussion of our crime tactics is complete without reference to the hyper-victimization of disadvantaged communities of color by high rates of violent crime. But MPD considers it our moral duty to confront violence where it occurs. Towards that end, our officers take physical risks every day implementing the ethical and constitutional anticrime strategies of the MPD,” Flynn said in the statement.
MPD released 2016 crime data that indicated 79 percent of homicide victims and 75 percent of aggravated assault victims were African American. MPD also added African Americans made up 81 percent of homicide suspects and 85 percent of aggravated assault suspects were.
A General Distrust
Little over a week earlier, Shaun King, Civil Rights activist and senior Justice writer for New York Daily News spoke to a packed Marquette lecture hall regarding community police relations.
“In 2015, there were 1,100 police officer involved fatal shootings, and 0.00 percent of those were taken to trial. That is a scientifically ridiculous number,” King said.
“It wasn’t even like we went to trial and lost. They looked us right in our faces and told us ‘We’re not even taking this to trial.’”
King said his work in civil rights work really began the day shared the video of Eric Garner being choked to death by a NYC Police Officer on Facebook, in 2014.
The controversial decision to not charge NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was just one of a string of unarmed police involved shootings to end with a no action taken.
Reggie Jackson, Head Griot of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, spoke during the event. He acknowledged it was the six-month anniversary of the Sylville Smith shooting, which eventually erupted into two nights of unrest in Sherman Park.
“It’s a tragedy that a man had to lose his life in that way. We have to acknowledge that his family as well as other families have been suffering as a result of police activity,” Jackson said.
He said when local, national and international media asking about the issues in Milwaukee people set the sole blame on lack of jobs and community centers for the kids.
“People don’t riot and loot unless, you have police activity,” Jackson said.
Whether it was Milwaukee, Ferguson, Baltimore, Los Angeles or any other police involved shooting turned riot over the course of time, Jackson said quality policing is the number one priority.
Additional Police a Potential Possibility
Just a week after the fires burned in Sherman Park, the Common Council announced its Public Safety Action Plan.
The three-pronged plan was to include collaborated efforts between the community, government, law enforcement and faith based organizations to improve public safety.
The plan asked for an additional 200 officers to fill 80 vacant positions and other possible openings due to the influx of eligible retirees.
The term “More Policing is not the answer” was shouted at town hall meetings across the city.
On Feb. 16, the MPD welcomed 40 new recruits.
According to internationally renowned public speaker Dwayne Bryant, adding more police was not necessarily a bad thing.
“If officers aren’t trained in de-escalation skills, tactics and techniques, if cops don’t have an understanding or respect for the community and are not trained in different aspects of mental illness, then you are adding problems to the streets,” Bryant said.
“If they are trained professionals, let them fight crime. Let them engage and build relationships with the community because without trust between the community and MPD you will have chaos.”
Bryant’s work with children throughout neighborhoods in Chicago prompted him to share the many law enforcement experiences through his novel, “The STOP: Improving Police and Community Relations.”
Chicago has made headlines for one of the deadliest years in history, and Bryant said Milwaukee was just a microcosm of the macrocosm universe.
“It’s just a smaller Chicago,” Bryant said. “There is high poverty, which is an incubator for crime and lack of trust in the community.”
No Simple Discussion
“There’s no more serious allegations in the 21st Century America than be accused of racist or biased behavior.
Right now, frankly, I don’t know if I’m more indignant or depressed that this is what the ACLU wants America to think about the Milwaukee Police Department,” Flynn said in a press conference Feb. 22.
As the lawsuit moves further, the discussion of community and police relations in Milwaukee will be at the forefront of many needed conversations between elected officials, police officers and the people they are supposed to serve and protect.