Late Sunday evening, police finally released information about the police-shooting that led to riots in Milwaukee Saturday. They stated that the victim was a black man and that he did have a gun in his hand. The officer who shot him was also black and reportedly shot after the man turned toward him with the gun in his hand. Authorities say that in the silent body camera video, 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith was clearly holding a gun. The police chief said that the entire incident took approximately 25 seconds and that Smith is seen turning toward the officer and raising his gun-wielding hand. Smith was hit in the chest and arm, but it is still not known how many total shots were fired by the officer, or if Smith fired any shots himself.
Proving that he was holding a gun seems to be the police’s way of justifying his death; however, there are many cases where non-fatal force or strategies have been used with armed suspects. There is no assumption here that the officer necessarily intended to kill Smith; but, these situations continue to happen. Regardless of the possession of a weapon or not, police officers are charged to protect and serve. They are not serving if they are killing when they do not have to. And they do not have to in most of these cases. Smith most likely could have been disabled, and he should have been. Blank rounds, rubber bullets, a taser, shots to the arm or the leg in order to disarm him without taking his life should be the preferred strategies in these situations. If police officers want to act like they are above the law, then they should work in the mindset that protecting their own life does not mean destroying another’s. They should think of the suspects as needing rehabilitation, perhaps, a chance to defend themselves in court and in the media, a chance to learn from their mistakes if they have actually committed a crime. Regardless of what they are doing or who they are they are human and they have Constitutional rights.
I don’t care if he had a gun, he was a human and he did not have to die. I also don’t care that the officer was black, because that does not excuse the white, light-skinned, and other black officers who are complicit in the murder of civilians, whether by perpetrating them, covering them up, or excusing them.
Even a person defending themselves against a shooter would have to stand trial and submit a self-defense case. This officer will be put on administrative leave which is essentially a paid vacation and potentially facing no trial whatsoever.
Governor Scott Walker called on Wisconsin’s National Guard Sunday in anticipation of further protests. Six total businesses were burned during protests Saturday night. Reportedly a protest began after dark Sunday evening with protesters marching to the police station chanting “Indict. Convict. Send the killer cops to jail.” Police looked on in riot gear from behind a row of squad cars.
The police department and other media were also quick to dig up Smith’s arrest records, which showed mostly misdemeanors. This is representative of a further problem in these types of shootings: blaming the victim. I don’t care if he was arrested 5,000 times, he’s still human and we have a Constitutional right to due process, a jury of our peers, et cetera, which these officers and the departments that protect them don’t seem to give a crap about.
I commend the Milwaukee sheriff for acknowledging the hurt and pain Smith’s family must be feeling, taking steps to humanize him instead of merely criminalizing and dehumanizing him. The initial reports about the case, however, have revealed little if anything about Smith besides his arrest record.
When reporting about a convicted white rapist last year, some publications listed his impressive swim times, instead of criminalizing and dehumanizing him. That sends a message to our communities that being black is more criminal and heinous than being an actual, proven rapist.
At noon on Monday the Milwaukee mayor accused outsiders of perpetrating the damage and protests in the city. Other residents and business-owners have echoed this idea, that outsiders are taking advantage of a local upset.
Reports from Sunday night and Monday morning state that one 18 year old man was hit by a bullet during the protest and is in the hospital; gunshots were allegedly heard in three different areas Sunday night. Police reported that they utilized armored vehicles to get to the man who had been shot. At least 7 officers are reported injured from thrown concrete and bricks.
Sunday night was reportedly not as bad as Saturday, but protests seem to have continued into Monday. The Mayor, Governor and Police Chief are calling for calm.
Milwaukee’s racial unrest is nothing new. The city faces heavy segregation and residents report regular racially motivated police encounters. In 2014, police shot and killed a mentally ill man, Dontre Hamilton. Residents have been calling for a Federal review of the department ever since.