After Mensah Decision, Protesters Take To The Freeway And Milwaukee, Wauwatosa Streets

Oct 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter protesters were disappointed with Wednesday’s decision by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to not file criminal charges against Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah. Chisholm had reviewed Mensah's fatal shooting of a Black teenager, Alvin Cole, outside Mayfair Mall in February. The protests that followed Wednesday’s announcement were mostly peaceful, with some exceptions.

More than 100 demonstrators stood in the middle of State Street outside the Milwaukee County Safety Building after Chisholm's finding was announced and began to chant Cole's name.

READ: No Charges For Wauwatosa Officer In Killing Of Black Teen

The group quickly left and headed south. Turns out, they were going to the Interstate 94 westbound ramp at 7th and Clybourn streets. Many of the protesters walked onto the freeway. But John McHugh says police knocked him off his bicycle and stopped him from going onto I-94. In a brief interview with reporters, McHugh defended the civil disobedience efforts of the others.

"We've got legal teams fighting for this, we're taking all the proper channels and stuff. But even with those, the families — their cries, their demands — are not being heard. Police aren't being held accountable. I think at that point, when you're up against a wall, people feel they have no other choice. Civil disobedience, since the time of the Revolutionary War, it's a very American thing to do,” McHugh said.

After marchers went on I-94 westbound, some motorists behind them were allowed to exit via the 7th Street on-ramp.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

After marching on the freeway, the protesters wound through Milwaukee's west side, before finally entering Wauwatosa at about 8 p.m. The suburb had put on a 7 p.m. curfew. But police didn't try to block the marchers until they reached 76th Street, just outside Wauwatosa City Hall.

Law enforcement prepares to keep the protesters away from Wauwatosa City Hall.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Law enforcement focused on protecting the building and let the demonstrators go around them. A few of the drivers in the protesters' caravan even drove on the lawn of Longfellow Middle School, to keep going west.

A Black woman who refused to give her name said marching to support the Cole family was an easy move. "Sure, why not. Your life’s important, right?" she said.

One of the stores with a broken window, near the intersection of North Avenue and Swan Boulevard in Wauwatosa.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

But about a dozen blocks later, the protesters smashed windows of several shops at North Avenue and Swan Boulevard. Other windows were smashed later on Center and Burleigh streets. At least twice, law enforcement fired tear gas at the marchers. There appeared to be shoplifting at a Milwaukee gas station on 92nd Street.

During the evening, WUWM's Maayan Silver spoke with District Attorney Chisholm by phone and asked him about the protests.

"You know, everybody has the absolute right to disagree with my decisions. In fact, as a prosecutor, somebody always disagrees with your decisions,” Chisholm said, adding he hoped the protests were peaceful.

The marchers tried to reach the parking lot of Mayfair Mall where Cole died, and perhaps were also heading to the Wauwatosa Police Station on 116th Street. But at least three times, law enforcement, including the Wisconsin National Guard, successfully turned back the marchers at bridges over the Menomonee River. 

Boards replace broken windows at Miss Molly's Cafe & Pastry Shop.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

At about midnight, the marchers and their caravan headed east back into Milwaukee. That left the board-up work to begin at the businesses with broken windows, including Miss Molly’s Café and Pastry Shop at 92nd and Center streets.