Angry protests broke out after the killing and the following night in the Sherman Park neighborhood on Milwaukee’s North Side. As demonstrators clashed with police in riot gear, six businesses and a few cars were set on fire. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker deployed the National Guard, and a 10 p.m. curfew was imposed to drive teenagers off the streets.
While what actually happened remains unclear, many Blacks here, who face regular cop harassment and abuse, said they understood why people exploded.
Smith’s death is just the latest such incident of police killings and brutality leading to protests here. James Perry died while in police custody in 2010, as did Derek Williams the following year. Williams’ death by suffocation was recorded on video while he was restrained in the back of a police car. Perry, who was epileptic, died in the booking area of Milwaukee’s County Jail after cops had placed a mask over his head. In 2011, Jeanine Tracy was punched and dragged out of her car by her hair during a traffic stop.
And in 2014, Dontre Hamilton was shot 14 times and killed by Milwaukee cop Christopher Manney. Hamilton, who suffered from schizophrenia, had been sleeping on a downtown park bench. His death sparked months of protests and a campaign led by his mother, Maria Hamilton, who formed Mothers for Justice United. The group helped organize demonstrations and built the national “Million Moms March” in Washington in 2015 against police killings.
No charges have been brought against any of the cops in these killings.
Mothers for Justice United has joined Kimberly Neal, Smith’s sister, calling for the cop who killed Sylville Smith to be charged. Black community organizations and groups from the American Civil Liberties Union to Wisconsin Jobs Now have joined in demanding officials release the video footage from Heaggan’s body camera.
“Until these police are held accountable — charged, convicted, and put in jail for their actions — they will keep on doing this,” Maria Hamilton told the Militant. “We are going to keep on fighting. The politicians won’t do it for us.”
One of the burned businesses, a BP gas station, was the site of protests a month earlier after a clerk, the owner’s son, threatened a group of children outside the store by firing a gun into the air. “They were just kids being rowdy,” Mario Ford, a factory worker who lives in the neighborhood, told the Militant. “There was no justification to fire a weapon.”
After neighbors organized a boycott of the station, the clerk was charged with disorderly conduct and fired.
While Police Chief Edward Flynn blamed the unrest on “outside agitators” from the Revolutionary Communist Party who came from Chicago, Mayor Tom Barrett and media accounts said it was young people from Sherman Park who were intent on causing trouble. But many who live in Sherman Park tell a different story. “This is a close-knit, welcoming neighborhood,” Vicky Pearson told the Militant, describing a block party she helped organize just a week earlier. “We had a DJ and a bouncy house for the kids, serving brats and corn on the cob, and nearly 300 snow cones.
“Just as the death of that young man is devastating, so is the vandalism,” Pearson said. “We need to continue to protest in a positive way or nothing’s going to change.”
Socialist Workers Party: Cop brutality part of capitalist rule
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