Milwaukee, along with other communities around the country, has witnessed a remarkable reaction to violent killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Among the marches that have crisscrossed the region, one unfolded over the weekend in Shorewood.
The event was pulled together by some of the village’s high school students, including 17-year-old Eric Patrick Lucas III, who is black.
The march’s jubilant atmosphere shifted suddenly when a white female attorney who lives in Shorewood blocked protesters with her car, and then spat in Lucas’ face.
“At this time, I continue to be shaken, mentally and physically. To be assaulted by an adult in my own community during a pandemic was traumatic,” Lucas told a crowd that assembled Monday morning in front of the high school. “Every day my heart stays warm with the chance of success in this cause — winning against injustice, winning against poverty, winning against racism, breaking the boundaries and bondages and most important, being a youth leader that repairs the mistakes of our elders."
Fellow Shorewood student Zephaniah Eiland was there for Lucas, as she was at the march. She said the assault her classmate endured was horrific, but it won’t dampen her peers’ resolve.
“It exposes what, you know, we’ve been fighting for. It gives us another reason to keep fighting,” she said.
Overall, Eiland said the march was amazing: “It was awesome to see my classmates and my peers be able to lead thousands of people and us having support of each other, you know, all walking in solidarity for something that is bigger than us and that means so much to us. We, as students of Shorewood, have been fighting for a long time.”
Paru Shah heads Shorewood’s school district and said it’s been working on a strategic plan to address racial inequities in its schools.
She said this summer, the board will double down to strategically plan with teachers, community members, and students to widen the conversation.
“Being very strategic about talking to teachers and community members about this anti-racist pedagogy, the social justice curriculum and intentionally including students in that practice is kind of what we hope to do this summer,” Shah said.
No matter how inspired the curriculum and the conversation, the obstacles will be daunting.
Reflecting on the incident at Saturday's march, Shah said, “To me this is an example of the pushback, the opposition we are definitely going to face."
Shah marched Saturday with her children, 6th and 8th graders. She described their reaction when the attorney stopped the march and confronted student organizer Eric Patrick Lucas III: “I think they were horrified, quite honestly. That day had been so beautiful until that point and, you know, I think they are young enough to not have witnessed that much racial animosity in their face yet. But those are the moments where they realize that could happen, right, at the grocery store that we go to all the time. I think they felt very surprised and sad. This community is somewhere where they generally have felt pretty safe, but that there are others who don’t feel that way."
Carrie Zuithoff and her family marched too. She teaches 6th grade in the Shorewood School District and was proud to see former students leading the way in the demonstration.
“The opening at Atwater Park and hearing student voices, there was a particular student — an 8th grader — who spoke and I was her teacher ... just two years ago and to see her growth and her strength and courage was really powerful, as well as some of my other former students were the organizers of the events, and it was very moving, very emotional but more so feeling the emotion and empathizing with how they were feeling and have been feeling all their lives and in that moment,” she said.
Zuithoff said she and fellow teachers have steadily put more emphasis on being inclusive and celebrating diversity, but the last few days have taught her it’s not enough.
“It’s great to see the school district rallying and supporting and comforting. I just don’t want it to be a one-time show to the community. We have to overhaul what we are doing and really dig in and do the work that we talk about,” she said.
Before all of the microphones and cameras disappeared at the end of Monday’s news conference, incoming Shorewood High School senior Hiwot Schutz stepped forward to share her thoughts.
“I love this school, I really do, and for the most part I love my community, but I do experience racism and microaggressions almost on a regular basis. This week I witnessed two of my black peers be verbally and/or physically attacked and I want everyone to watch those videos and realize that racism still inhabits this community,” she said.
Schutz said as a community and as a school, Shorewood really needs to tackle the problem of racism.