By Dylan Deprey
News is all about the facts: the who, what, when, where and why. But, when the where overshadows what actually happened, who is left to pick up the pieces?
After the news trucks and reporters left with footage of buildings on fire and neighborhood in shambles, Sherman Park had been nationally recognized through a grimly lit spotlight.
Televisions and computer screens across the country did not showcase Sherman Park as the diverse neighborhood and local hub for the community to convene, but rather a dark pit in north side Milwaukee.
The narrative had shifted from a young man who had lost his life at the hands of a Milwaukee Police Department officer in a City where community and police relations were far too thin, to a dark spectacle that would haunt the Sherman Park neighborhood.
The year anniversary has prompted several conversations across the different communities regarding the state of police relations and the state of Sherman Park and Milwaukee in general.
The Milwaukee Press Club hosted a panel of local journalists and community experts to continue the ongoing conversation in repairing neighborhoods, and reporting its stories at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society on Aug. 16, 2017.
The journalist panel included print, radio and television reporters: Ashley Lutheran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Homer Blow, WNOV/Homer Blow Radio and Charles Benson, Milwaukee TMJ4.
The expert panel consisted of Vaun Mayes, #weallwegot/Program the Parks Initiative, Ald. Khalif Rainey, 7th District, Laura Richard, resident and blogger and JoAnne Sabir, Sherman Park Phoenix LLC.
Tensions Remain Tight Between Community and Police
Mayes was no stranger to the mass fights and murders that occurred in Sherman Park over Summer 2016. He and other neighbors took it into their own hands and worked as peace keepers in the park, and eventually created the Program the Parks Initiative.
He said the community had little trust in MPD because of the extended wait times that could be between a half hour or two hours, whether it be an armed robbery, heroin overdose or shooting.
“I live in Sherman Park. I had somebody from California call me because their mother’s house was shot into on the Eastside, and she called the police and for seven hours no one respondent. So, I had to go over there,” Mayes said.
His efforts along with some from the MPD were not enough to extinguish the flame that had been growing over the years when former MPD officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown shot and killed Sylville Smith.
At the year mark, Mayes said MPD has been doing more to reach out to the community, but should focus less on PR and more on diverting their money and time in more effective ways.
Ald. Rainey said efforts were being made in community outreach but he did not think community/ police relations had gotten any better, especially as public safety has been hot button issue every time Summer rolls around.
“My neighbors are majorly concerned about safety,” Rainey said. “Right now, we have some people who believe they An expert panel of journalists and community advocates. (L to R) Ashley Lutheran, Homer Blow, Charles Benson, Vaun Mayes, Ald. Khalif Rainey, Laura Richards and Joanne Sabir. (Photo by Dylan Deprey) don’t have to adhere to the bare minimum requirements of safety like running through red lights. We have a great need for a change in public safety.”
Rainey said that in a microcosm, the Sherman Park situation really represented the need for the City of Milwaukee to invest in all of its neighborhoods.
“This easily could have happened in any neighborhood. It wasn’t the people in Sherman park that caused this incident, but it happened there, and now they are stepping out from behind the lines and asking how they can be part of a positive change,” Rainey said.
Grassroots and Neighborhood Programs Take Accountability
Sabir and her partner Juli Kaufmann are developers, and plan to buy and renovate the BMO Harris Bank building that went up in flames during the unrest. The building is set to be a hub for 12 businesses including Sabir’s business, The Juice Kitchen.
“In my mind, there is no magic bullet that will come as policy from a politician, but it really is our personal investment and doing what we can,” Sabir said.
She added that she believed all the answers rested within the community and its entrepreneurs and innovators.
Mayes said that he along with other grassroots organizations use their own funds to provide programming and assistance and see little-to-no evidence of government funded non-profit programs working.
“There is no reason why we should have programs that are fully funded every year that produce little to no results. They are not changing things and they’re giving people same sandwich away every day and getting paid for it. There are people doing substantial work, grassroots, boots-on-the-ground and those people are kept from the money, kept from the funding and kept from the rooms,” Mayes said.
It’s not a Sherman Park issue, it’s an Everybody issue
Richards said after moving to Sherman Park 10 years ago, it changed her as a person. She also noted that as a white person living in the inner-city, she had witnessed the effects of segregation personally and acknowledged it. She added that it was hard for political will to be exercised when people could not see the connection to their own situation.
“You don’t care about how the schools are performing unless your kids are going to that school, and you don’t care if there is a food desert because you can get groceries wherever you want. You don’t mind there’s a bunch of foreclosed and vacant homes in Sherman Park because you don’t have to look at them,” Richards said.
She said Sherman Park did not need pity, but rather parity between the white communities that had fled to the government subsidized suburbs where minorities were excluded and segregation continued.
“We don’t need white people to feel bad, but we do need white people to own their responsibility,” Richards said. “It’s hard and awkward because we are faced with a pretty ugly truth in the mirror held up to us.”
“So, what are we going to do? Are we going to hope for the best for Sherman Park and Milwaukee, or are we going to engage because those kids are our kids?” Richard said.
There is no Timeline to Reverse Trauma
When the question regarding the timeline for Sherman Park to make a successful recovery, there wasn’t a definite answer.
Sabir said it was a difficult answer because neighborhoods across Milwaukee, including Sherman Park, have experienced significant amounts of trauma. From drug overdoses, stolen cars, violent shootings, etc., Sabir said the community must address and create activities for people who have experienced large amounts trauma.
“It’s really about unearthing, supporting, uplifting, and wading through the trauma,” Sabir said.
Mayes said that holding ourselves, our neighbors and our police department accountable was one of the first steps to improving relations across the City of Milwaukee.
“Whether it’s Sherman Park, whether it’s 53206, we need to all get involved no matter where we live at because we are all one city,” Mayes said.
Richard said that Sherman Park was a strong community, like many others, but there needed to be innovative ways for growth.
“The manufacturing jobs that were lost between the 70’s and 2000, it doesn’t look like those are coming back, so there is going to be a new and creative way to grow business in the neighborhood,” Richard said.
Ald. Rainey said that after a year he has witnessed developers, business owners, neighbors and artists join together and continue to work throughout the neighborhood, but the entire City needs to wake up as well.
“We’re all Milwaukeeans and if there is one part of the city that is unhealthy, then we are all unhealthy,” Rainey said.