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Young Black Milwaukee Males Say They Know They Can be Targets

Marti Mikkelson

The high profile killings of two teenage boys have occupied headlines this week.

First, there was the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. Now, in Milwaukee, the killer of Darius Simmons has been on trial.

In both cases, the victim was a young black male, unarmed and confronted by a white man upset about crime.

About a dozen young people are pulling up vegetables in the sweltering heat in Milwaukee's central city.   It’s harvest time at Alice’s Garden – a garden the neighborhood shares.

One worker is 19-year-old Dyrell Minor. During a short water break, he tells me he’s kept an eye on both the Florida and Milwaukee cases. He says both upset him.

“It sends the message that there’s racism within politics and within the system, period,” Minor says.

Minor says the acquittal in the Florida case, made him wonder if people value his life. He says he has always watched his back in Milwaukee’s central city, yet the two trials have made him even more conscious of his environment.

“Black males are getting killed for just walking down the street. That’s something I shouldn’t have to worry about,” Minor says.

It’s important to mind your own business, according to Dominique Ware-Ward. He’s another young gardener here today.

“If you stay to yourself and just deal with your family and not cause drama or be part of the drama, your life will be pretty much straight living in Milwaukee,” Ware-Ward says.

Ware-Ward is 15 years old. He says, what makes him feel valued, is his summer job. He harvests healthy foods that feed neighborhood families. Jesse Collier says he tries to avoid potential troubles by staying active. He is also 15.

“I play football and other sports, run track, go to the library with friends and stuff,” Collier says.

Collier says, when he’s walking the streets, he tries not to call attention to himself. Yet he says people who keep their heads down too low in the central city can emit an air of vulnerability.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.