Today marks day 26 that Milwaukeean’s are planning protests over police brutality against Black people. The protests kicked off after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minnesota, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who applied pressure to the back of Floyd’s neck with his knee.
For Mariah Smith, seeing the video of Floyd’s death was enough to spur her into action. At 28, she’s not only taking part in protests for the first time, she’s helping organize them.
“This man, George Floyd, he was calling out begging for them to stop. Please get off of my neck. He wasn’t aggressive. He wasn’t resisting or any of that and he was still killed … This just hit differently because he was laying there. Just laying there. You watched him screaming to not responding at all to them flipping his body over and him being loose. Just completely loose. Lifeless. That hit me hard,” Smith says.
If someone could do that with a camera on them, Smith says there’s no telling what’s happening when there are no cameras. And she says that while Floyd was the catalyst, this fight is about more than just him. She says the same issues of police brutality against Black people can be found in Milwaukee as well.
“It’s not just stuff we’re seeing on TV, this is stuff we’re seeing on a daily here,” Smith says.
For organizer Destiny Monae, while she’s also never been involved with a protest movement, she says there was no question about this one.
“Just seeing us all come together as a unified group is kind of showing me what the world could be,” Monae says.
She says that for the first time ever, she feels supported.
“Going through neighborhoods, I hate to say we don’t belong in, but that’s just how Milwaukee is set up. Being able to walk through neighborhoods I don’t belong in with our white allies, that was great,” Monae says.
Like Smith, Monae had never taken part in protests until now.
The pair are working with long-time Milwaukee activist Khalil Coleman. He stepped away from protesting for a while because it had become too heavy, but seeing how Floyd was killed was enough to bring him back. Coleman says the protests he’s helping lead in Milwaukee are about the people and finishing what’s been left undone for years.
“The system change is what’s undone,” Coleman says.
For him, he says justice looks like a world where his son doesn’t have to worry about being harassed by the police because he is Black.
“I want to see a world, not where color don’t matter because I’m proud to be Black, but I want to be proud to be Black in a world where Black is accepted,” Coleman says.
Right now, Coleman says protesters have the attention of lawmakers. But he wants more than their attention.
“When we talk about changing systems of oppression, we have to talk about changing police as we know it in America. It requires policing to be different. That’s the end goal. Not just resolutions being released that’s redundant and repetitive, but accountability as well. Bark with a bite. That’s what we want to see,” Coleman says.
As for what makes these protests and demands different this time around, Coleman says unity.
“You see people from all different walks of life out here in the movement. And that’s what makes it different. It ain’t a separation thing. It ain’t, 'Oh, that’s just a Black cause right now.' Yeah, it’s a Black movement, but everybody is being involved and everybody feel like, 'OK, things ain’t right.' So people taking to the street off of that alone,” Coleman says.
Organizers say they are prepared to continue protesting until their goals are achieved.