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Residents of Laylah Petersen's Neighborhood Discuss Impact of Crime on Their Daily Lives

Michael Ireland, fotolia

On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Police Department announced the arrest of three menin the fatal shooting last year of five-year-old Laylah Petersen. She was killed while sitting on her grandfather's lap. Bullets ripped through the window of his home.

The shooting took place in Milwaukee's seventh police district on the northwest side. Violent crime is part of life for some residents in the area.

"We hear gunshots on a daily basis."

"We've had a few homicides over the year. One about four houses away from that way, and one about three houses away that way."

"We had a shooting because they was running an after-hour in the block above me, and then we had another shooting around the corner on 48th, probably was gang-related."

William Wade, Roger Boesch and Betty Gaines attended the police department's monthly crime and safety meeting this week, a few blocks north of Sherman and Capitol. Carly Roberson also was there. She says conditions are deteriorating.

"This is not new, this has been going on for years, it's just gotten worse, and I've been a citizen of the city of Milwaukee all my life and I've never seen it this bad before," Roberson says.

According to Roberson, what contributes to the perpetrators' criminal behavior is how they were brought up.

"This age group is totally different than we were raised. It's like babies having babies, so they're not being raised the way we were, my generations, to respect one another, to respect your elders, to respect everyone. They don't even respect their own parents, let alone elders around them," Roberson says.

William Wade says part of the problem is the proliferation of guns and the fact that many young men are using weapons to settle arguments.

"A lot of these guys they're just tough, and 'nobody's going to be tougher than me.' There's no way for anyone to back down. It just escalates right off the scale. And everybody's packing heat, and with the concealed carry, everybody's packing heat. You almost have to assume that the person that you're having a confrontation with has a gun. Every car has a gun. And it's the 'Wild, Wild West,' but it's the 'Wild, Wild Milwaukee,' is what it is," Wade says.

As a result of the danger in his neighborhood, Wade says he wanted his son to go to college outside of Milwaukee. Instead, his son went to officer candidate school, to join the Marines. Wade recognizes his son could face dangerous situations in his work, but says:

"I would still rather have him in the Marines with an American flag on his shoulder carrying an M16, than walking around in the city of Milwaukee. Because at least, with the M16 and  American flag, if something happens to him, at least he died with honor. In the city of Milwaukee, you die? You're just dead," Wade says.

Despite the grim words, Wade is not without hope. He says he's pleased the police meet regularly with citizens, to share crime trends and possible solutions. One idea he offered at this week's meeting is that police should mount cameras on squad cars. He says they could be moved as needed, to record suspicious activity.

Fellow resident Betty Gaines says it's up to residents to take action.

"The community have to get involved. You have people that don't get involved, but we want to fight. We don't want to be ran out of our neighborhoods, so we want to fight. So in order to do that, we need to help the police," Gaines says.

Even Carly Roberson -- who said she's never seen crime as bad as it is today -- is hopeful conditions will change. She relies on a higher power to make the difference.

"Pray. All churches need to just pray. That's the only thing that's going to take care of this is God. So we're just going to continue to pray for our city, and everything is going to be alright.  But prayer is the only thing that's going to change this," Roberson says.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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