Hundreds of people grabbed brooms and rakes Monday to help clean up Martin Luther King Drive, which is in the heart of a minority-owned business district north of downtown Milwaukee. The district saw significant damage this past weekend when peaceful protests turned violent over three consecutive nights.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Milwaukee over the last few days, protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Protests were peaceful during the daytime. But after dark, smaller numbers of people looted businesses, smashed windows, sprayed graffiti and tried to set fire to some businesses along King Drive and other streets on the north side.
Participants in the cleanup effort Monday met at Pete’s Fruit Market on the corner of King Drive and North Avenue. Organizer Martinez Milton says he was touched by the huge turnout.
“It’s amazing to see all these residents and all these community individuals come together for a good cause and that’s to restore Milwaukee, heal Milwaukee and unite Milwaukee. It’s wonderful to see all these people out here. Out of bad can come good,” Milton says.
Alisha McBride and her 9-year-old daughter were among the volunteer cleaning crew. McBride lives up the street from where the protests and eventual looting took place. She says her daughter wanted to participate in the demonstrations, but McBride said no.
“She asked if she could protest and I was like, I want to find a safe way for us to have our voices heard. We can have our voices heard by helping in our community,” McBride says.
McBride and others stood in line about 30 minutes to pick up cleaning supplies. When they got to the front, organizers doled out brooms, dustpans, rakes, shovels, and garbage bags. The crowd then fanned out in small groups and went to work.
Claudia Scholl used the edge of a large dustpan to scrape broken glass from some concrete steps. Like McBride, Scholl lives in the neighborhood and laments the losses that local businesses have suffered. But Scholl says she is aware of how things can escalate.
“It’s regrettable. I can’t tell you how much I admire the voices that have come out for peaceful protest and the leaders who have been encouraging that. But I completely understand the frustration of those who just don’t know what to do with their despair except this kind of stuff,” Scholl says.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley walked through the line of volunteers, thanking everyone for coming. He says he’s seen the damage in the area, and it is extensive. But he says he’s confident the city will bounce back.
“We have to do what we can to focus on those police-community relations, do what we can to rebuild this community and really focus on making sure that everybody has access to equity,” Crowley says.