Police Shooting in Milwaukee Sparks Outrage and National Controversy

by Gabrielle Diekhoff

In case you haven’t seen the news, there has been a lot happening in Milwaukee, WI over the past few days. On Saturday, in Wisconsin’s largest city, another black man was shot to death by a police officer. Since then, the city has been in furious turmoil. Protests quickly became violent – multiple businesses were set ablaze, dangerous objects were being thrown, and gunfire rang out in three different locations – and it was, overall, a treacherous and tragic mess of a weekend for various parties. Because the city and members of the community are still recovering, I was hesitant to approach this story; there is so much to unpack, and, as a white woman, so many things that I fundamentally can never understand about living as a black American in our country today. So, I’ll tread carefully, and do my best to stick to the facts that have been released to the public thus far.

The shooting that sparked the outrage took place on Saturday, when the victim of the fatality, Slyville Smith, was pulled over for a traffic stop. He and the passenger with him fled the vehicle. Smith was armed, carrying a gun that was loaded with 23 rounds, though it is unclear as of now if he ever pointed the gun towards the officer in question. Upon seeing the gun, and supposedly asking him to drop it, the officer (who is remaining unidentified for the sake of his safety), fired a bullet into Smith’s arm and chest, which resulted in his death at the scene. According to CNN and the Milwaukee police force, the officer was wearing a bodycam, and the footage will be released to the public at a later date.

What proceeded Smith’s death was what has really caused national controversy. Protests turned into riots – or what a lot of people are referring to as an acts of an ‘uprising.’ Damaging fires were set to six different Milwaukee businesses, including a BP gas station. 7 officers were injured, as protestors were throwing rocks and bricks at officers as well as through the windows of patrol vehicles. A total of 17 people were arrested in the midst of the chaos – 14 men and 3 women. Governor Scott Walker even declared a state of emergency for Wisconsin, though the National Guard was not deployed and the local police force was left to restore order, instead.

Protest results

A lot of people are saying that these protests went too far. Even Smith’s sisters, according to CNN, “condemned the violence,” claiming on a local news station that “acting out” wouldn’t solve anything.


However, this is a complicated incident, because as we all know, it’s not isolated. Acts of police brutality in the United States disproportionately affect African-Americans. So to say that the violent reactions are simply a result of this single killing would be inaccurate. 

City Alderman Khalif Rainey said that “there is always an underlying issue” in this powerful statement (courtesy of Vox):

This entire community has sat back and witnessed how Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has become the worst place to live for African Americans in the entire country. Now this is a warning cry. Where do we go from here? Where do we go as a community from here?

Do we continue — continue with the inequities, the injustice, the unemployment, the under-education, that creates these byproducts that we see this evening? … The black people of Milwaukee are tired. They’re tired of living under this oppression. This is their existence. This is their life. This is the life of their children.

Now what has happened tonight may have not been right; I’m not justifying that. But no one can deny the fact that there’s problems, racial problems, here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that have to be closely, not examined, but rectified. Rectify this immediately. Because if you don’t, this vision of downtown, all of that, you’re one day away. You’re one day away.”

Research has shown that Milwaukee, is, in fact, that most racially segregated city in America, and you can read more about that here. So, should we be all that surprised that all of this racial tension finally burst? It’s certainly something to consider. 

Hopefully, members of the Milwaukee community will come together and heal, and the violence will come to an end sooner rather than later. Thankfully, photos like this, show that might be the direction the situation is moving in. 

Peaceful March 1


Images via Twitter and Instagram 

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