Young and Black in Milwaukee

Milwaukee finds itself once again under national attention for the brutalization of Black people by the hands of the police. In 2016 police violence sparked the Sherman Park uprising after a police officer, now convicted of sexual assault, killed a young black man. The latest case involves Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown being violently attacked and tased by Milwaukee Police Department  The video release on May 23rd, almost four months after the incident shows a non-combative Sterling Brown, though after the initial arrest police said that Brown was combative; this has turned out to be a false observation and statement.

This not just an isolated incident of excessive force being used against Black youth in our County. Just a few weeks ago a Wauwatosa Police officer punched a Black teen while he was being held by a Mall Security official.

Milwaukee Police Department [MPD] now finds itself in a national public relations crisis where news outlets like ESPN, CNN, and Vox are picking up the story. Milwaukee Police Chief went as far to release a public relations video, and Asst. Chief Michael Brunson went to church to plead for support.

Unfortunately, it is not just police violence that threatens the lives of Black people. The divestment in social programs and infrastructure in Black Milwaukee has lead Milwaukee to be named the worst metro in the

County to raise a Black child due in large of statistics like

  • Black infants die before their first birthday at more than twice the rate of white infants
  • Only 24 percent of Black children in Milwaukee grow up in economically-secure households compared to 72 percent of white children
  • Black youth in Milwaukee County were more than twice as likely to be arrested than white youth
  • In Milwaukee Public Schools 84.6% of referrals to law enforcement were Black students
  • K-12 schools in Wisconsin suspend black high school students at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country and has the second-highest disparity in suspension rates between white and black students
  • Due to the divestment of Public Education, in favor of an accountable voucher system, the state also has the largest achievement gap between black and white students in the country, and ranks last in reading comprehension tests among black fourth-graders. Milwaukee has the most black students in the state and is the biggest contributor to Wisconsin’s achievement gap.
  • Black students have enrolled in college at a rate 25 percent lower than their white classmates

Let’s make it clear before we dive any deeper. It is not an accident that community of color, especially Black communities, are being robbed of their tax dollars to fund their oppression through police and state violence and receive underfunded public services.

It is cases like Sterling Brown and the young teen from Wauwatosa that persuades us to reject the notion that police should be in schools. Police across the country have been filmed taking the lives of Black people for years, and yet we are supposed to trust them in our schools with our children? We think not.

Milwaukee Police Department has a long history of excessive force towards communities of color, with little to no action plan to correct this. MPD’s excessive force has cost our city more than 20 million dollars since 2015, and is set to hit almost 30 million after the latest ACLU Stop and Frisk lawsuit is settled.

Often people who are not impacted by gun and police violence, will believe that all of this is made up and is an overreaction, yet here we are witness murder after murder, and abuse after abuse with no action.

Youth afraid to attend school. Almost weekly we see young people who look like us, carry the same books as us, be victims of mass shootings and only action done is a prayer.

Youth afraid to even call the police in fear that they will not protect them but “protect themselves”. Youth afraid when they see a police officer or car near, ready to pull their cameras out and empty their pockets with no sudden movements. The story of Sterling Brown, is the story of many young Black people in our city - who have their live threatened by police. MPD has shown it does not matter if you a professional Basketball player making  almost $1,000,000 or the Vice President of the Milwaukee Youth Council and on your way to Marquette University if you are young and Black in this city, your life is at risk.

No, it’s not an overreaction but a precaution that has subconsciously been instilled within us. Simply put it has been instilled inside of young Black kids, to live in fear of police. So when you ask what is like to be Black in Milwaukee, the answer will be living in a state of fear with no freedom.

There is always an open invitation to act and challenge the status quo and reserve these statistics but the question has always been, how?

How do we create a foundation of freedom and awareness without ridicule from those who do not wish us freedom?

Black people of Milwaukee will no longer feel the need to walk in fear. We will not become a statistic or a poster board of police brutality in America, we will become stronger and riled up with passion to implement the change we desire.

Black people in Milwaukee deserve more than to be a hashtag because of police violence, they deserve the freedom to have thriving communities, schools, and lives.

Written by Brikaia Hines, LIT High School Fellow, and Dakota Hall, Executive Director.