More than 100 people gathered in front of the Milwaukee County Courthouse Wednesday morning to demand justice for Joel Acevedo. The 25-year-old worked as a security guard at the downtown Northwestern Mutual building. In April, Acevedo died from injuries sustained in an alleged fight with off-duty Milwaukee police officer Michael Mattioli.
More than two weeks after Acevedo was killed, Mattioli, a 13-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department, was charged with first-degree reckless homicide. Mattioli made his initial appearance in court on Wednesday while protestors outside demanded he be fired and convicted.
Elizabeth Brown, a local activist, says police brutality, something that many are now taking notice of, is not something new in Black communities.
"The cries that individuals of color, Black men were being killed, I don't think really resonated when it don’t happen in your community, when they don't happen close to home," Brown says.
In a city known for its racial and geographic divisions, Brown says Acevedo’s death has become a rallying point of solidarity.
"Joel Acevedo’s death has brought the south side and north side together because those cries was the same. We was just in different places and different spaces. I just think now our cries are being heard because again, united we stand, divided we fall," says Brown.
Eric Flores, a Chicano and activist with the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, says the acts of solidarity are not confined to Milwaukee.
"We're seeing this phenomenon of Black and brown unity, all throughout the country, especially in LA, like Boyle Heights neighborhood and yo Compton even. So this is great, you know, we can't stop here, we have to keep this momentum going with a common goal as a united front," says Flores.
Supporters of the Acevedo family are demanding that: bodycam footage of the incident be released, two other men involved be charged, and mental health support be provided for the Acevedo family.
Inside the courthouse, Acevedo’s sister, Julissa Acevedo, addressed the court. She described her brother as the light of the room and a kind, loving, and sensitive person. The audio of the court appearance was made possible by WISN12.
"I’m hoping Joel’s case will change the narrative and shed some light on the many other cases across the country," says Julissa Acevedo. She went on to describe Mattioli’s behavior as unacceptable. "This is the stuff officers should be held to a higher standard, their behavior on and off duty matters. Till this day, he has shown absolutely zero remorse for killing my brother."
Mattioli did not address the court. But his attorney Michael Hart did respond to Acevedo’s sister, calling her comments understandable.
"The idea though, that justice needs to be served is something that we'll have to take place on another day before a jury of Mr. Mattioli's peers," Hart says.
Although currently suspended from the police force, Mattioli is still receiving a paycheck. It is ultimately up to the Fire and Police Commission to decide whether he should stay on the force — the FPC is currently investigating the matter.
As for criminal charges, if found guilty, Mattioli could serve up to 60 years in prison. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 13.