Milwaukee protest: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker activates national guard after night of unrest

The Guardian – By Alan Yuhas/Oliver Laughland/agencies – Sunday 14 August 2016

Authorities respond near a burning gas station as dozens of people protest following the fatal shooting of a man in Milwaukee, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. A crowd of protesters skirmished with police Saturday night in the Milwaukee neighborhood where an officer shot and killed a man after a traffic stop and foot chase earlier in the day, setting fire to a police car and torching a gas station. (AP Photo/Gretchen Ehlke)
Photo: Authorities respond near a burning gas station as dozens of people protest following the fatal shooting of a man in Milwaukee, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. A crowd of protesters skirmished with police Saturday night in the Milwaukee neighborhood where an officer shot and killed a man after a traffic stop and foot chase earlier in the day, setting fire to a police car and torching a gas station. (AP Photo/Gretchen Ehlke)

Milwaukee’s police chief identified the man whose killing by an officer prompted protests, clashes with police and arson on Saturday night, as the state’s governor activated the national guard for fear of more unrest.

On Sunday afternoon police chief Edward Flynn identified the shooting victim as Sylville K Smith, and said he had a “lengthy arrest record” before he fled from a traffic stop, with a gun, and was shot dead by an officer.

Hours after Smith’s shooting scores of protesters clashed with police, set fire to buildings and threw rocks and bricks at officers. On Sunday, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker activated the national guard to assist if necessary, on the request of Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke Jr.

Mayor Tom Barrett said on Sunday that four officers were injured in the confrontations, including one by a brick hurled into a squad car, but that they had all been treated and released from the hospital.

Barrett said that the officer who shot Smith was wearing a body camera at the time, and that video and photographic evidence showed “without question” that he had a gun in hand at the time. Flynn did not name the officer but said that both people involved in the shooting were black.

Skirmishes between protesters and police continued on the city’s north side until after midnight, when the mayor pleaded for calm in a televised news conference. “We have to have calm,” he said. “There are a lot of really good people who live in this neighborhood.”

A fire burned for hours at a gas station in Sherman Park, with firefighters unable to approach because of gunshots in the area. They also extinguished blazes in a police cruiser, a bank branch, car parts store and beauty supply store. Police arrested three people by the night’s end, Barrett said.

The protests began after Smith, 23, shot dead when he fled from a traffic stop. Police said he was armed with a semiautomatic weapon, but they did not describe details of the shooting, except to say he was hit by bullets twice, in the chest and arm. State officials will investigate the shooting, and the officer involved has been placed on administrative leave, both standard practices.

The officer has not been identified, though police said the officer had been with the department for six years, three of which as an officer.

The handgun was traced to a burglary in nearby Waukesha in March, according to police, had been stopped for what Barrett called “suspicious activity”.

“There were 23 rounds in that gun that that officer was staring at,” Barrett said. “I want to make sure we don’t lose any police officers in this community either.”

Another police official, Bill Jessup, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that it was not clear if the suspect pointed the gun or fired at the officers.

“This is a warning cry,” Milwaukee alderman Khalif Rainey told reporters. “What has happened may not have been right,” he added. “I’m not justifying that, but nobody can deny that there are racial problems here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that have to be rectified, because if you don’t, you’re one day away.”

“Black people in Milwaukee are tired,” he said. “They are tired of living under this oppression.”

Tensions have intensified between local black residents and police in recent weeks, in parallel with national anxieties about police abuses and violence targeted toward officers. In July the city saw protests over the shooting 25-year-old Jay Andreson, who was shot dead in a suburb west of Milwaukee, the 2015 shooting of 19-year-old Tony Robinson, and the 2014 killing of 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed man with a history of mental health problems.

The white officer who killed Hamilton was subsequently fired from the department but did not face criminal charges, a decision that prompted protests, a series of reform measures and the introduction of body cameras.

In December the Justice Department and Milwaukee police department began a joint “collaborative reform initiative”, and a federal assessment is expected this fall. The project was announced after the Justice Department declined to open a civil rights investigation into Hamilton’s killing.

“This entire community has sat back and witnessed how Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has become the worst place to live for African Americans in the entire country,” Rainey said. “Where do we go from here? Where do we go as a community from here

Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood has one of the city’s higher crime rates, and has been the focus of sustained police harassment that intensified in recent weeks, according to local activists.

Stephanie Roades, a local organizer with the Showing Up for Racial Justice network, said some residents had recently started operating patrol shifts to monitor interactions between locals and police officers.

The BP gas station burned by protesters on Saturday has itself been the scene of a number of recent confrontations. In July, a station worker opened fire on a large group of juveniles he claimed were harassing him. The event prompted outrage among some community members who called for a boycott of the local business and protested outside.

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Posted by Teri Perticone

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