By Edgar Mendez
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
The sounds of blaring music, four-wheelers, motorcycles, and celebration were interrupted by automatic gunfire Aug. 19 on the South Side, leaving hundreds fleeing and nine people shot. Luckily, no one died. The victims included four teens and three men in their 20s.
The shooting was one of several on the South Side this month, including one the following night that injured four and another overnight that left a man dead. The second shooting occurred on South 12th and West Mitchell streets, just two blocks from the mass shooting that happened during a street gathering on South 14th and West Burnham streets.
The surge of violence has left many residents fearful and community leaders pondering what can be done to stop it.
Teaching conflict resolution
Drea Rodriguez, executive director of the Peace Learning Center of Milwaukee, said conflict resolution needs to be taught.
“We need to proactively teach people how to use language and other behaviors to create peace and how to work on conflict together,” she said.
Rodriguez said some young people have become more reckless.
“Behind a gun or a fast car they think that they are invincible, and they are wrong,” she said.
She said her organization has the tools to help youths and adults make better decisions. She’s working with elected officials and others to gain the support needed to make conflict resolution training accessible to everyone.
A focus on relationships
Pastor Marty Calderon, a leader of Team Unified, a group that conducts street outreach on the South Side to promote safety, said he believes the key to reducing violence is building relationships with people.
“People have to trust you enough to sit down and talk to you before resorting to violence,” said Calderon, who participated in a peace vigil at the site of the Aug. 19 violence.
Calderon said the fact that another shooting occurred two blocks away hours after the peace vigil did not discourage him.
“It drives me to do more and proves that our job is not done,” he said.
“People are going to have family feuds and neighborhood beefs, but we have to keep building these relationships with them to help them understand that there’s a better way to deal with things,” he said.
Discussing the dangers of guns
Community organizer Travis Hope said that schools and parents need to become more innovative with their messages to young people. Part of that includes teaching children at a young age about the dangers of guns.
“We’ve had so many cases this year alone where kids have been injured by guns,” he said.
He also believes another way neighborhoods can become safer is for people to treat each other better.
“We just need to have more respect for each other,” Hope said. “People came together during COVID and we still need that.”
Keeping youths busy
Julian Haliga, program coordinator for the Milwaukee Baseball Club and Milwaukee Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities, said he thinks the key to reducing violence is bringing back an opportunity that he and many others enjoyed as youths.
“When we were growing up, we always had somewhere to go,” said Haliga. “We need more free after-school programs and community centers to keep kids off the street.”
Many youths, he said, come from broken or struggling homes and lack structure and purpose. Bored and with nothing to do, they get together with friends and find trouble without realizing the consequences.
He said many of his baseball players, most from the South Side, come in with that attitude but quickly let their guards down.
“They come in rough, but after I show them that I love them, they melt; they go nuts when you show them that you care,” he said.
Another major challenge of working with youths, he said, is that there is a lack of adult volunteers and workers available to help them.
“Volunteerism is way down,” he said. “We also need to support people who want to work with young people by paying them a decent wage.”
A push for parental involvement
Ald. JoCasta Zamarripa, who represents the South Side, agreed that there needs to be more investment in community organizations.
“I feel that after the pandemic and through the pandemic, we pulled resources from these youth-serving organizations,” she said.
She said the recent shootings, in a district that neighbors hers, caused her to question whether parents and other guardians are keeping tabs on their children.
“We have got to make sure that we know where our kids are,” said Zamarripa, adding that many of the shooting victims were teenagers. “How can I implore my community to please keep track of your young people?”
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson issued a statement in response to the violence, insisting that those responsible be prosecuted and directing the city’s Office of Violence Prevention to intervene. He also called on the community to help and for legislators to also take action.
“I again ask everyone – parents, neighbors, teachers, preachers, and mentors – to step up in ways that will help stop the bloodshed,” Johnson stated. “I will add: Leaders and legislators must take a renewed look at our gun laws to decrease the likelihood that guns end up in the hands of people who should not have them.”
For more information
Charges in both cases are pending review by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. Police ask you to call 414-935-7360 if you have information. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 414-224-TIPS, with any information on either shooting.
Here is a list of some organizations working to promote peace in Milwaukee.
Peace Learning Center of Milwaukee
Office of Violence Prevention