By Dylan Deprey
As August rolled around and humidity hit an all-time high, Milwaukee’s hot end to the summer had also experienced a violent spike. There were 16 shooting deaths over the course of 20 days, and countless injured across the City. Most of the incidents began as arguments, which escalated into senseless violence and serious repercussions.
Though gun violence has been a sad norm in Milwaukee, communities across the City felt the tragic aftermath. As family and friends would share their stories on social media, there was a hashtag that continuously showing up, #GunsDownMiltown.
As August continued, more and more posts popped up online of people brandishing their Guns Down Miltown shirts, pledging to put the guns down and solve their issues peacefully.
Guns Down MilTown was bold statement that questioned the status quo in Milwaukee. It began as a social media movement, and was eventually pressed onto t-shirts and being backed by local figures like Tory Lowe, Activist, Senator Lena Taylor and Ajmou Butler, Heal the Hood.
From having activists and politicians, to local rappers and former gang members, Gideon Verdin-Williams, one of the Guns Down Miltown founders, said the mission was to simply show everyday people who deal with this issue.
“’I’ve been affected by gun violence directly and indirectly and I’ve lost a lot of friends. So, Guns Down Miltown has been on my mind since 2001, but I just didn’t know what to do with it.”
Along with his business partner Denzel Johnson, Verdin-Williams wanted to send a message with a purpose when creating Guns Down Miltown, and for every shirt sold, proceeds were donated towards youth programs across Milwaukee.
“We want to show that putting the guns down is cool, and to stop spreading the negative images to young people,” Verdin-Williams said. “Kids of color don’t have a chance to make mistakes in our community because it could be their lives.”
Though Guns Down Miltown has only been around for a month, they have worked hands on with the youth programs as well as with families who have experienced the loss from gun violence.
Verdin-Williams said a day earlier he attended the vigil for Jakari Wright, whose father had shot and killed him following a disagreement about cleaning his room.
“It was tragic, and they couldn’t find anybody to do the shirts properly in time,” Verdin-Williams
said. “So, we did them ourselves.”
Guns Down Miltown has also worked with the youth on weekends beautifying local gardens, over on Martin Luther King and Ring and on 5th and Locust.
“What we do on the weekends is bring youth out to the gardens to show them community responsibilities, urban agriculture, composting and how to plant and grow their own sustainable foods,” Verdin-Williams said.
Along with posting positive community stories on their blog, Guns Down Miltown plans to host a billboard and video campaign. The project has also seen support from Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention.
Verdin-Williams said Guns Down Miltown had took off like he did not expect, but after meeting those down for movement, he had found that it was more than t-shirts.
“The people we met handing out the shirts, a lot of them have lost their loved ones five or six years ago, and that it feels like yesterday,” Verdin-Williams said. “The reoccurring theme is that the pain never goes away, and a lot of these families want justice, so this became a lot bigger than an awareness campaign.”
For more information visit https://gunsdownmiltown.com/