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Race / Ethnicity

Ernest Lacy's Relatives Add Their Voices To The Milwaukee Black Lives Matter Movement

Chuck Quirmbach
Left to right: Alyce Lacy (Ernest's sister), Myrtle Lacy (Ernest's mother) and Betty Lawrence-Lewis (Myrtle's attorney in the early 1980s.)

A Black family whose son was killed while in Milwaukee police custody 39 years ago is taking a bigger role in the Black Lives Matter protests.  The relatives of Ernest Lacy are speaking up.

Ernest died in a police van in 1981, after being taking into custody for a rape that was later determined the 22 year old did not commit.  At a later hearing, then-community activist Howard Fuller called for charges against the officers who had forced Ernest to the ground.

"We know they had handcuffed him and that [Officer Thomas] Eliopul was no longer concerned about arresting him. He was trying to hurt him," Fuller said.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
Ernest Lacy, in a photo taken of a large image of Ernest that marchers carried Wednesday.

Eliopul was eventually fired. Four other officers were suspended, in a legal case that took about four years. 

Ernest's death has been revisited in Milwaukee before, when Black men have died while in police custody. With the death in May of George Floyd while being held down by Minneapolis police, Milwaukee activists are pointing to the similarities of the Ernest Lacy case.

There are dozens of Ernest's relatives still living in the Milwaukee area. Several came to a rally and march Wednesday in Washington Park to mark what would have been his birthday.

Nephew Justin Lacy says his uncle's death continues to have an impact on the Lacy family.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
Ernest Lacy's relatives left to right — Josh Veets, Justin Lacy and Cecil Lacy.

"Man, it affected our family so much because Ernest Lacy was an individual — from the stories I heard from my family, my grandmother, my father, my sisters — he was a giving and lovable individual,” Justin said.

Ernest's brother, Cecil Lacy, says Lacy's Law, passed in Wisconsin after Ernest's death, requires police to seek medical help for anyone in their custody. Cecil contends the law is not being followed.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
The back of Myrtle Lacy's t-shirt.

"Absolutely not. ... And that's what motivated me to get out and speak up on the law because I feel like it is on the books, but it's just being ignored,’’ Cecil told WUWM.

Ernest's mother, Myrtle Lacy, says she was sad her son was not there for his birthday, but she also called it a happy day because about 100 people were on hand.

"It's a happy day because we see people who are determined to help someone. And I feel that with everyone's help, and of course God's help, we'll make it,” Myrtle said.

But she says she's not criticizing all police officers. "I guess I'm a little different than a lot of people as far as the police are concerned. There are a lot of police officers that I think are just great. We have police officers in our family, and I look up to them and I respect them and I know that they have a job. But I also know that there are officers who [don't] give people the chance to live. And for those kinds of people, I think that people need more training, they need to be taught that you just don't kill people for no reason,” Myrtle said.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
Wednesday's march, leaving Washington Park, in Milwaukee.

The main focus of the Milwaukee area Black Lives Matter rallies has been on deaths in police custody. And after some brief speeches Wednesday, there was this chant about the man who died nearly four decades ago: "Say his name! Ernest Lacy!”

What followed was a march of a few miles to 23rd St and Wisconsin Avenue where Ernest died.

There were more speeches there, and the group blocked eastbound traffic for about an hour. Cecil Lacy sang part of a song his sibling taught him — The Greatest Love Of All,  first recorded by George Benson in 1977.

Cecil suggested the rally and march would not be his last, as the local Black Lives Matter movement now counts more than 60 consecutive days of hitting the streets with plans to keep going.  

Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
Cecil Lacy speaks to the marchers who had blocked eastbound traffic on Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee.

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