Sherman Park: The Aftermath
In a special partnership with Milwaukee Public Television, WUWM's Lake Effect convened a panel of community members to discuss the causes of the violence in the Sherman Park neighborhood and the way forward.
The unrest and violence that has swept through Sherman Park made national headlines, and many claimed the fatal, police shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith, as the cause of these demonstrations. Members of the community say these tensions are just the symptoms of deeper issues, rooted in a city blighted by segregation and inequality.
Panelist James Causey is a writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is co-host of Black Nouveau on Milwaukee Public Television. And like a lot of Milwaukeeans, Causey says he wasn't surprised by the unrest. "It was like a simmer that I always felt was there, and I just knew that it would just take something to push it over the top," he says.
Many Milwaukeeans complain about the depiction of the city and Sherman Park in the media - both locally and nationally. Some feel the conversations lacked nuance, and didn't accurately represent the diversity of the neighborhood. Causey has lived in the Sherman Park area for forty years, and says part of why he continues to live there is because of its diversity.
"A lot of people may not understand this, but it may be one of the most diverse places in the state."
"A lot of people may not understand this, but it may be one of the most diverse places in the state. You have a large Jewish population, you have a Hmong population, a Black population," he says. "You have people who are middle class, lower middle class, and we all manage to get along and try to make it... It's a melting pot of what this community should look like."
In her blog, writer Laura Richard Marshall refers to Sherman Park as an "Urban Mayberry," but news coverage made it seem like a blighted area, chaotic and dangerous.
"It was a really sad thing to follow the Twitter feed on Milwaukee or Sherman Park. Especially Sunday morning into Monday, there were so many people who lived outside the city. And it felt like all of their suspicions were confirmed about the city or about diverse neighborhoods, or about Sherman Park in particular," says Marshall.
"Those are the types of stories I don't think the national media really covered, was that the community has come together."
Reggie Jackson is another Sherman Park resident distressed by the national narrative. Jackson is the board chair of the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, the organization that oversees America's Black Holocaust Museum.
Immediately after the chaos on Saturday night, he says he went out into the neighborhood. Jackson saw people of all ages from the community helping clean up the damage caused by the fire. He saw people joining in a prayer circle and a group of young people marching peacefully, but he didn't see those stories playing out on the national stage.
"Those are the types of stories I don't think the national media really covered, was that the community has come together; that people from around the city have come into the community to reach out, to try to help. And that's what we need," says Jackson.
Jarrett English from the ACLU of Wisconsin thinks this is part of a larger problem of how the media talks about neighborhoods in Milwaukee, specifically Sherman Park. "That's why there's that huge disconnect in the sense of what people think Sherman Park is, and what it actually is... It's all, you know, '30 kids throwing rocks,' not the 500 who were there two hours before, marching around peacefully."
The question many are asking now is: how does Milwaukee move forward? How can the city settle the unrest, without repeating its past mistakes?
"I think that it's important for people in the community to really build relationships with the young people, to have conversations with them. Too many people are afraid to do that," says Jackson.
"Literally, just go and talk to people... When they go and talk to youth, the police in particular, it should not be in an enforcement kind of structure. It should be human being to human being."
English agrees. "Literally, just go and talk to people... When they go and talk to youth, the police in particular, it should not be in an enforcement kind of structure. It should be human being to human being," he says.
WUWM reporter LaToya Dennis says while the shooting of Sylville Smith played a role in the unrest, it's really about addressing underlying issues in the community. "I think the death of this young man was a catalyst, it's what got things to take off... When I speak to people I hear a lot of people say this is about jobs, this is about education, this is about us not feeling as though we're getting a fair shake at things, us feeling as though things are not equal. "
Moving forward, English says it is incumbent on those in power in Milwaukee to better engage younger people. And, he believes, authorities need to take a different approach in general. "Police and politicians," he says, "need to come much more from a public service standpoint, as opposed to saying, 'OK, we're here to get you under control'."
Most of all, he hopes people will realize that the issues at work are deeper than just what transpired one Saturday night. "We're basically resetting the timer on a bomb if everybody who watches all this just says, 'OK, it's all just a couple knucklehead kids, fighting the cops.' That's nonsense."
Sherman Park: The Aftermath will air on MPTV's channel 10 on Friday, August 19 at 7:30 pm and again on Sunday, August 21 at 10:30 am. Channel 36 will also air the special on Sunday at 4:30 pm.