By Monique Jones
The Birmingham Times
Violence over the police-involved shooting of an black armed man in Milwaukee, MN gripped the community early Monday morning.
Police responded to gunfire overnight. One civilian was shot and was taken to the hospital with the aid of an armored vehicle. A police officer was also taken to the hospital for injuries after a rock broke a patrol car’s windshield. Milwaukee police wrote via Twitter that a car fire was also reported and that multiple arrests had been made.
The second night of Milwaukee’s unrest wasn’t nearly as violent as the first. Between Saturday night and early Sunday morning, gunfire rang out in the community, six businesses were set on fire and seven police squad cars were damaged. The chaos also resulted in several injuries, including a 16-year-old girl who suffered non-life threatening injuries, and four officers, three of whom were hurt by flying concrete and one by flying glass. The officers have since been released from the hospital.
The National Guard has been activated, stated Mayor Tom Barrett during a press conference Sunday, but said they would not be deployed unless Police Chief Edward Flynn felt their presence was necessary to restore order.
Flynn stated that Milwaukee police officers arrested 17 people Sunday morning, all of whom had prior criminal records. Both Flynn and Barrett stressed that police didn’t fire a single shot during the events that took place.
The shooting that sparked the unrest involved 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith and an unidentified officer, who is also black. Barrett stated that while he hadn’t yet seen the footage from the officer’s body camera, he had seen a still from the video. “That still photo demonstrates without question that [Smith] had a gun in his hand, and I want our community to know that,” said Barrett. He went on to state that Smith had 23 rounds in his gun, meaning he had more ammunition than the officer in question.
Flynn, who had seen the tape, relayed his understanding of the event, stating that Smith—who has a “lengthy arrest record” with police—had been stopped due to suspicious activity. Within about 20 to 25 seconds, Flynn said, the officer was in a foot chase with Smith. “The incident occurred very, very rapidly,” said Flynn, also stating that on the video, Smith had a firearm aimed at the officer. According to Flynn, the officer told Smith to drop his weapon, and when he didn’t comply, the officer shot him, killing him. Flynn said he felt that the officer’s actions “certainly appeared to be within lawful bounds.” He also confirmed that there is video of officers administering CPR to Smith.
Police have met with Milwaukee’s faith community to prevent further unrest from happening in the city. Relatives of Smith have also urged for calm. “We’ve been challenged in a way that we have not been challenged in years,” said Barrett. “Last night was unlike anything I had ever seen in my adult life. I hope I never see it again.” Barrett hoped that by putting the event in what he felt was context, it would ease some of the tensions of the community. “I hope that, in some ways, calms our community, because that’s what I’m seeking,” he said. “I’m seeking our community, the city that we love, to be calm tonight and for the rest of the summer.”
However, he acknowledged the gravity of the act that precipitated the unrest; the loss of a life. “A young man lost his life yesterday afternoon,” said Barrett. “And no matter what the circumstances are, his family has to be hurting.”