Protests against social injustice and violence by police have been ongoing in Wauwatosa since the summer. They've centered around suspended police Officer Joseph Mensah, who has shot and killed three people of color in the line of duty.
The cries of the community grew louder last week after Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm chose not to charge Mensah in the February fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole.
Some protesters have criticized police and Wauwatosa officials for calling in the National Guard in advance of demonstrations.
Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride took office in April and says he has been calling for peace from the start of protests. He says he understands that the Cole family is disappointed by the decision not to charge Mensah but wants them to keep advocating through legal processes.
“I was hoping that that would cause the Cole family and the protesters on their side to realize that there is still a legal process available to them for redress of their grievances and that would keep them from engaging in unpeaceful protests,” says McBride.
An investigator’s report released last week recommended that the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission fire Mensah. McBride has declined to take a position on the firing, but he says that could be a potential avenue for the Cole family.
As protests continue, he points toward the fact that not all of them have stayed peaceful. Some family members, including Alvin Cole’s mother, were even arrested by Wauwatosa police during protests on Oct. 8.
“I want to make it clear, many of the protesters were peaceful, but many of them had not been peaceful and we saw smashed windows and looting and rocks and bricks and water bottles being thrown the other night,” says McBride.
As a lawyer for 40 years, he says he's experienced the range of the justice system and seen first-hand the inequities in it, but he doesn’t think that disrupting the peace is helping address that.
“Many times I got the result I wanted and sometimes I didn't, and I thought the legal system could be, at times, unjust, but I'm not willing to throw out democracy and go to anarchy. We really have to work through the system we have and make the system better,” he says.
Despite criticisms that police presence at protests is further intensifying the situations, McBride says his biggest concern is making sure Wauwatosa doesn’t see the same violence that erupted in Kenosha in August.
“What we have achieved so far is people haven't gotten hurt, at least not seriously hurt, we haven't had any deaths,” he says. “It's intended to make sure that Wauwatosa doesn't turn into another Kenosha. Pure and simple."