Unrest And Protest In Milwaukee After Police Shooting

Aug 14, 2016
Originally published on August 15, 2016 3:32 pm
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Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the National Guard is on standby following violence after the fatal police shooting in that city on Saturday afternoon. Barrett is also calling for calm tonight and pleading with parents to keep their children at home. NPR's Cheryl Corley is in Milwaukee, and she joins us now. Hi there, Cheryl.


AUBREY: So it's been almost 24 hours since police in Milwaukee chased and then shot dead a suspect who they say was brandishing a gun. That led to protests overnight and arson. What's the situation now?

CORLEY: Well, right now, it's calm. And Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee says, though, in the last 24 hours, this city has been challenged in a way that it really hasn't been challenged in years, with an officer shooting a person during a very short chase. Barrett says there is body cam video - a video he hasn't seen, but he has seen a still photo.


TOM BARRETT: And that still photo demonstrates without question that he had a gun in his hand. And I want our community to know that - that he had a gun in his hand. Now, the police officer didn't know it at the time, but there were 23 rounds in that gun, which means that he had more bullets in his gun than the police officer had in his gun.

CORLEY: And they identified the victim, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, who police say had a lengthy arrest record. And the officer who shot him has only been identified as an African-American officer.

AUBREY: Now, Police Chief Edward Flynn talked today about threats to police during the violence. And does that continue today?

CORLEY: He says yes. And he talked about injuries to four officers during the violence. They've since been released from the hospital. Also, a lot of damage to seven squad cars - one set on fire, another totally smashed. He said they also recorded dozens and dozens of shots being fired, and he says none were shots by the police.


EDWARD FLYNN: The total number of activations was 48. Now, that doesn't mean 48 shots were fired. It means 48 different activations. Some of these activations were six, eight or 10 shots fired all at once. That's a single activation. There was a great deal of gunfire in the area.

CORLEY: In fact, the chief says, no reported use of force at all by police last night. There were 42 officers out during the protests. In addition, seven businesses set on fire or damaged and 17 people arrested last night. And what the city is really trying to stress here is a narrative different than Ferguson, say, and the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown. And - and this is not Tamir Rice, for example, the young boy with the toy gun in Cleveland shot by police. They say that this man, according to the police, was armed and also dangerous.

AUBREY: You've been there talking to people all day. What are residents saying about yesterday's shooting?

CORLEY: Well, there's still plenty of anger, but also a lot of people who are calling for calm, including Nate Hamilton. He is the brother of Dontre Hamilton, who was shot by a white police officer here two years ago. Hamilton was in Sherman Park, encouraging people to pick up debris, calling for peace, but also saying police should not ignore residents' complaints. He said he understood that the law enforcement had a hard job on their hands, but they needed to be better, more accountable and to treat people in the community better.

AUBREY: With everything that's going on in Milwaukee, there's a deep skepticism about the possibility of easing tensions between the police and residents. Is that right?

CORLEY: For many, that continues to be the case. But Milwaukee City Councilmember Ashanti Hamilton says he knows that, but he says the city's investigation into the shooting will be shared with the public, and hopefully that will begin to change some people's minds.

AUBREY: Thanks so much. That's NPR's Cheryl Corley. Thank you.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.