More Unrest After Milwaukee Police Shooting But No Widespread Destruction

Aug 15, 2016
Originally published on August 15, 2016 7:59 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The city of Milwaukee remains tense after a police officer fatally shot a black man there on Saturday afternoon. There were riots and violence that night and some protests last night. NPR's Cheryl Corley is in Milwaukee.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: There is a difference, typically, between demonstrations in the daylight hours. They tend to be peaceful, and those at night often are not. And that's been true here in Milwaukee. At about 10:30 last night, a large crowd holding Black Lives Matter signs briefly took over a north side street.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Come join this s***, bro. Come join us.

CORLEY: A few blocks away from the protests, 19-year-old Romaine Rimmer didn't approve of some of the violence targeting police that occurred Saturday night.

ROMAINE RIMMER: It ain't no reason to throw rocks or stuff at they cars.

CORLEY: Rimmer also suggests the protests are an understandable outlet for many young black men who are estranged from the police.

RIMMER: It really don't matter if people think it's bad or not. If they tell us to come together like this and do what we got to do just to - for them to know that we - we tired of this.

CORLEY: But like Saturday, there was violence. Police used an armored vehicle to get to an individual who was shot during the unrest last night. Police aren't sure of the circumstances. And in riot gear, other officers confronted a group throwing rocks and other objects. Even so, it was far less volatile than Saturday, when six businesses were burned, four officers injured and 17 people arrested - protests that flared after a police officer fatally shot 23-year-old Sylville Smith, who ran from police during a traffic stop. At a press conference yesterday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett acknowledged a young man lost his life Saturday. And Barrett says Smith's family has to be grieving, but Barrett added that a still photo he'd seen of the officer's body cam video makes one thing clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TOM BARRETT: That still photo demonstrates, without question, that he had a gun in his hand. And I want our community to know that - that he had a gun in his hand. Now, the police officer didn't know it at the time, but there were 23 rounds in that gun, which means that he had more bullets in his gun than the police officer had in his gun.

CORLEY: Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn declined to identify the officer but said he is an African-American. And he cautioned that the shooting is still under investigation. Authorities are waiting for autopsy results. While the mayor says he hopes the videotape can be released as quickly as possible, Chief Flynn is hesitant.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDWARD FLYNN: There is a balance act. And every time one of these is released, it's usually a chief erring on the side of transparency at some risk to the criminal justice process. I mean, you're going to find very few, you know, career attorneys who are going to say, oh, yes, get that out in public as fast as possible.

CORLEY: And he gets the city must work to get that balance right. In the park not far from where Sylville Smith lost his life, dozens of people gathered earlier in the day for a prayer vigil and to clean the debris around the gas station that was destroyed Saturday night. An odor of smoke still lingers. Sonia Mack, who brought her young daughter to the clean-up, calls it the smell of hopelessness. And she says she's going to conduct a street ministry for the city.

SONIA MACK: That means saying good morning. That means picking up trash like we did. That mean praying for people if they - if they want it. That means giving whatever we can to the street of Milwaukee because the streets are hurting.

CORLEY: In a way, it's a longstanding problem for Milwaukee. The city was rocked by months of protest after an officer shot and killed Dontre Hamilton, a mentally-ill black man, two years ago. In December, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would work with Milwaukee police on reforms. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.