A rainbow of humanity gathered throughout southeastern Wisconsin Saturday — from Greendale to Grafton — as marches continue in reaction to the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police almost two weeks ago. Hundreds of people converged at the North Point Water Tower in Milwaukee Saturday before making their way north to Whitefish Bay and back again.
Energy was building in this patch of brilliant green at the easternmost point of North Ave. People scooped up signs that volunteers created on the spot.
Jake, who didn’t want to share his last name, helped organize the march’s medic crew. A doctor and other health care workers have volunteered to triage, just in case. Jake hopes Milwaukee can transition to more peaceful change. One step forward, he believes, would be demilitarizing the police.
"Just seeing an antagonistic force in your community with military grade weapons — like the stuff I used in Afghanistan — is kind of ridiculous and we need a lot more training for our police officers. The training we got in the military is unparalleled, but even that’s not enough to deal with some of the psychological and social ramifications of what you’re doing to human lives and I think we need to focus a lot more of that type of training for our police," Jake said.
Jake had marched a few days earlier, but wondered whether he, a white guy, should be there.
"But coming home from the march, a black guy — my age — said he had felt all alone in Milwaukee until seven days ago. He didn’t know that other people cared," Jake shared.
Unique Russ brought her soapbox to the march — literally. She toted a small platform with the word “soap” handprinted on it.
"We’re telling people to get on and let’s start talking because the marches are purposeful, the protests are purposeful, but what comes next? We all need to start talking and hearing each other’s side and coming up with solutions," Russ explained.
One of the march organizers, Darius Smith addresed the crowd that filled the park. He told the crowd he grew up on Milwaukee’s north side, owns an art gallery in Bay View, and has a young daughter he wanted to get home safely to that night.
Darius sid there’s a lot about Milwaukee that needs fixing, including giving everyone — not just certain individuals — space to talk about their issues.
"There’s no one way to deal with trauma, especially black trauma in the sense of anxiety when it comes to police officers, anxiety when you go to a nice area and police asking you why you’re there. It’s a lot. How do you deal with that trauma that my father dealt with and my grandfather dealt with, that his grandfather dealt with," Darius said.
On Saturday afternoon, this group of people — with a multitude of individual experiences and concerns —raised their arms high and lowered heads for twenty seconds of silence before marching together through the city.
Just blocks into the march, 200 more people, walking from the south, added their voices to the throng.
Marcher Stephanie Rivera Berruz said they started at Mitchell Park and crossed the 16th Street Bridge, an important landmark in Milwaukee’s protest history.
"We’re walked the 16th Street Bridge today in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in order to show our support and our alignment with their cause," she said.
Dixie Deines and her husband marched in the 1960s. She said today feels different.
"The huge participation across racial, age … there’s a huge participation now and," Dixie adds hopefully, "you know, when you talk to people like the guy who is organizing and talk to people who are participating, you can’t help but feel hopeful."