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Two Perspectives on Milwaukee's Violent Response to Police Shooting

Michelle Maternowski

There are many theories as to how a neighborhood that used to be held up as a beacon of success has become ground zero for unrest.

Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood has seen a lot of changes over the years. It was once the heart of Milwaukee’s Jewish population and it was known for its manicured lawns and for being a close-knit community. While you can still find some of those attributes in Sherman Park, Clifton Pharm says he’s watched things spiral downwards over the last couple of decades.

“They used to make the comment, you go from owners to renters. You take a different pride in something that you own versus something that you rent, and I’ve seen that first hand,” Pharm says.

Pharm says what’s missing most when it comes to a lot of the newer residents is self-pride.

“You’re a poor man, with a rich man mentality. You’re brought from a poor neighborhood, I’m not saying this is a rich neighborhood, you come from a neighborhood where nobody really cared, you just can’t care overnight. You got some people who want better, but you’ve got to show you want better also when presented with better,” Pharm says.

Credit Michelle Maternowski
Sherman Park resident Clifton Pharm.

Pharm says that people are ready for change, but he says the destruction over the weekend had nothing to do with a lack of jobs or low levels of education.

“That’s a cop out, we need to be better educated. To be better educated, you got to want to be better educated. Me and you sitting here. Each morning you wake up you got to want to be, and a lot of the people they seem to stay where they at. They stuck in the mud. We want jobs, well, jobs don’t come to you. You gotta go to the job. Education is something you gotta go after. We all had the opportunity to go to school, how far did you want to go?” Pharm says.

Willie Brisco is a longtime faith leader in Milwaukee and provides a slightly different narrative of how we’ve gotten to the point of shootings and violence.

Credit Marge Pitrof
Reverend Willie Brisco

“I knew that we were due for something like this because of what’s happening around the country and how long this has been festering. I was afraid at the same time because it seems that no matter how much work we’ve done, we still wind up in the same place where we have never solved the racial, the economic, minority disparities that exist in this community,” Brisco says.

Brisco says Milwaukee and the Sherman park neighborhood are still feeling the effects of the loss of manufacturing jobs.

“We had a whole middle class that just totally evaporated. I don’t think people realized how much that was going to hurt the community, and how much social depravity that that was going to create. Right now, we’re in a big game of catch up and I’m praying that we’re not too late to save a lot of people,” Brisco says.

Brisco says that while he’s not making excuses for the damage and disorder protesters have caused since Saturday, he believes the city must review its police tactics.

“Let me tell you what happens when you occupy a depressed community where you have all of these other issues. You’re going to find every day, 24/7 someone driving without license, someone drinking in public, someone who might have drugs on them. And if you continue to stop people with this effort of I guess they call it broken glass community policing, where you’re stopping people, it begins to feel like an occupation,” Brisco says.

Brisco says he’s not sure of the answers, but he says one thing is clear, there’s still a lot of work to do.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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