Wisconsin Governor Activates National Guard After Milwaukee Protests Intensify
Protests in Milwaukee following the police shooting of an armed African American man intensified as demonstrators reportedly threw objects and fired shots Monday shortly after midnight, according to police.
The death of Sylville Smith, 23, triggered unrest beginning Saturday as protesters torched six businesses, including a gas station, and threw rocks at officers. Four officers were injured and 17 people were arrested, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said on Sunday.
Protests carried into early Monday morning.
From Sunday evening, protesters began swarming a Milwaukee police station blocking the streets. Police said one victim was shot and that they used an armored vehicle to rescue the person, who was rushed to hospital, according to police.
Milwaukee Police warned that they would arrest protesters.
The turbulent weekend prompted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to declare a state of emergency on Sunday.
Earlier that evening residents had gathered to mourn Smith as his family and friends held a candlelight vigil at the site of Saturday’s shooting in a residential area of North Milwaukee. At one point, the crowd chanted “ready for war,” followed by a a chant of “peace, peace, peace.”
Smith’s sister, Sherelle Smith, condemned violence carried out in her brother’s name, saying the community needs those businesses.
“Don’t bring that violence here,” Kimberly Neal, another sister, said, sobbing as she lamented that she would never be able to again hug her brother.
Residents also came into the streets with trash bags, brooms and shovels to sweep up the debris from burnt down businesses.
Tensions on Sunday gave way to prayers as activists gathered to call for peace.
A group of about 100 gathered at the park near a BP gas station that was burned during Saturday’s protests. Crowds ebbed and flowed at the station throughout Sunday; as night fell, community and church leaders led a prayer circle and spoke of a community that needs healing from ongoing “racism, injustices and oppression.”
What happened in the shooting
The incident began when a pair of police officers stopped Smith and another person in a car on Saturday about 3:30 p.m., police said. The men fled the car and the officers followed, shooting Smith in the arm and chest when he failed to put his gun down, Barrett said.
The handgun, along with 500 rounds of ammunition, were stolen during a burglary in nearby Waukesha in March, police said.
Police body camera footage showed Smith holding a handgun during the encounter, Barrett said at a Sunday news conference. Police said the officer shot Smith after he failed to comply with orders to put his gun down. His gun was loaded with 23 rounds, more than the officer was carrying.
Smith died at the scene, and the officer who fired the fatal shots was not injured. The unidentifed officer is 24 years old and has six years of service with the Milwaukee Police Department — three as an officer. He will be placed on administrative duty during an investigation.
The shooting occurred near the location of an August 9 double homicide in which a man was shot dead and another was fatally stabbed, police said.
Smith’s sister, Kimberly Neal, remembered a brother who “kept it real,” a high school graduate who played basketball, a contrast to “the man with a lengthy arrest record” described by police.
“He should have been tased, if anything,” she said. “We want everybody to feel our pain.”
Although the National Guard was activated in response to the unrest, it will not be deployed unless authorized by Milwaukee police chief Edward Flynn, Barrett said. By state law, the Wisconsin Department of Justice will lead the investigation.
‘Racial problems’ in Milwaukee
City Alderman Khalif Rainey said the area has been a “powder keg” for potential violence throughout the summer.
“What happened tonight may not have been right and I am not justifying that but no one can deny the fact that there are problems, racial problems in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that need to be rectified,” Rainey said. “This community of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has become the worst place to live for African-Americans in the entire country.”
Rainey said Saturday’s violence was a byproduct of inequities, injustice, unemployment and under-education.
“Something has to be done to address these issues,” he said. “The black people of Milwaukee are tired; they are tired of living under this oppression, this is their life.”
Milwaukee mayor on Sunday said that the damage from Saturday’s unrest was “unlike anything I’ve seen,” he said. “I hope I never see it again.”
“A young man lost his life yesterday afternoon. And, no matter what the circumstances, his family must be hurting.”