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Shootings Overshadow 'Ceasefire Week' Efforts in Milwaukee

Erin Toner

Milwaukee leaders hoped for peace last week when they called for an end to gun violence. Instead, crime escalated during the city’s so-called “Ceasefire Week.”

On Sunday alone – the day pastors called on people to put down their guns – a triple shooting left two men dead. City leaders and residents on Monday gathered at a small park on Milwaukee’s north side. The topic – how to get black men off the streets and into jobs or training programs.

Just a few days ago, an 11-year-old girl was wounded in a shooting just a few blocks from here, and the violence continued all week long.

Mayor Tom Barrett says sadly, he’s never surprised by the details.

“What happens when I get contacted when there’s a homicide, if it’s a homicide on the north part of the city, what’s going through my mind is, this is gonna be a young, African American man. And I’m usually right. On the south side, what’s going through my mind is, it’s gonna be a young, Hispanic man. And I’m usually right,” Barrett says.

A week ago, Barrett kicked off his annual Ceasefire Week. He touted the police department’s efforts to crack down on crime, and pleaded with the community to help end gun violence. Barrett even took his message to the pulpit. He visited seven churches on Sunday, his annual “Ceasefire Sabbath” event.

“When I was in one of those churches, two people were murdered and the scenario is almost always the same. It involves drugs, it involves illegal guns, it involves gangs, or it involves a stupid argument. And people are losing their lives because of it,” Barrett says.

“It’s crazy. It’s just crazy,” says David Bender, who’s lived on the north side for 30 years. He says children in his neighborhood can’t even go outside to play because it’s too dangerous. Bender says the people causing trouble don’t think before lashing out.

“I know when I was growing up we used to use our fists. And if you get whooped, you just get whooped. But see, if you get whooped with your fists, they feel like they gotta go get a gun and prove a point. That’s what I think. It’s all about proving a point,” Bender says.

Bender says if there were more job opportunities, there might be less crime.

“More jobs for the young community and for anybody that’s out here struggling. We just, we just need more jobs. Every other nationality can come up with a job except for us," Bender says.

As the meeting continues in the park, groups of young black men gather outside nearby homes. One who looks like a teenager carried his baby up and down the sidewalk. Michael Terrell, 17, describes crime in his neighborhood.

“I see a lot of stuff, robberies, shootings, babies getting beat up, everything. I had lost two of my friends to the streets. They got shot," he says.

Terrell says the meeting in the park is a good sign – people talking about violence in the community where it’s happening.

Gregory Lewis, a minister at St. Gabriel's Church of God in Christ, is also listening to the discussion. He was one of the Milwaukee clergy who called for peace in their sermons Sunday. Lewis believes one reason violent crime continues is that people follow the unwritten no-snitching rule, and don’t report problems when they see them.

“We know the people who are the culprits of all the destruction that is occurring right now. And they live in our houses. We have to be brave enough to say something about that to the people who are waking up in our beds, eating our food, at our kitchen table, in our living rooms watching TV, in our basements, that kind of thing. We have to start doing something about this at home,” Lewis says.

Credit Erin Toner
Milwaukee leaders and residents gathered Monday for a meeting of the city's Black Male Achievement Advisory Committee.

Mayor Barrett says the despite last week’s tragedies, the city will continue tackling gun violence on every possible front, including by hiring more police officers and engaging faith leaders.

“We’re not going to slow down. I’m going to reach into every single neighborhood in this community to do what we can so that we can have a place where people can be safe,” Barrett says.

Barrett says he’s hopes the Legislature will change state law, such as by prohibiting gun dealers from selling to people with criminal records or serious mental health issues.

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