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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

The Sierra Club Great Waters Group awards its environmental Hero of the Year Award to Milwaukee journalist

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Susan Bence
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WUWM
Isiah Holmes inside the Wauwatosa library.

A local environmental organization recognizes a Milwaukee journalist for outstanding reporting. Today the Sierra Club Great Waters Group will bestow its environmental Hero of the Year Award to Isaiah Holmes. He's a videographer and staff writer at the Wisconsin Examiner. Holmes has reported on policing the opioid crisis and climate change. Holmes spoke with WUWM environmental reporter Susan Bence about his work.

Holmes describes his documentary called "Speak, Friend and Enter," which examines the Wauwatosa Police Department's treatment of young people.

"[The documentary] focused essentially on reports of the local police department basically honing a lot of its focus and efforts on teenagers—particular cliques of teenagers," Holmes says.

Holmes says there was this long-standing tradition in Wauwatosa of kids hanging out in the woods and doing "teenager things," like building deadwood forts. Sometimes the activities would attract the attention of the police.

Police would respond and "shoo them away."

"But a lot of the stories I was hearing were kind of excessive, I don't want to say extreme...and there [were] things I was experiencing," Holmes says. "Getting stopped a lot for what you would call 'race out of place police call.' You're Black in this area, so we're stopping you, someone called."

Holmes decided to document these occurrences as they were not being reported on in the news outlets. Holmes believed they were an interesting commentary on how teenagers can be and also asked the question of "the police should respond to things, but how do they respond to it?"

Now, as Holmes works at the Wisconsin Examiner, he gets to work on various issues. Coverage may change daily, but sometimes he will focus on long-term pieces like the piece he began working on before he joined the Wisconsin Examiner, "Interactive maps illustrate Milwaukee's overdose crisis."

Holmes shares he began making maps of the overdoses in Milwaukee before joining the Wisconsin Examiner because it intrigued him to know how it looked on a map. Soon this became a resource to the public, police, and the medical examiner's office.

As Holmes receives his award today, he reflects on being a young Black man today in 2022.

"In a sense, mostly because of where we are. We're in Milwaukee. It's one of the most segregated cities in the country. We're in Wisconsin, our rate of locking up Black people exceeds that of the country...We're kind of [an] outlier and all of those statistics and all of those policies, so that is impacted me throughout my life," says Holmes.

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