Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has activated the state’s National Guard after unrest erupted in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Milwaukee in response to the police killing of Sylville K. Smith, 23, who was shot while trying to flee from an officer who had stopped his car Saturday.
Crowds gathered after the shooting to protest another police killing during the night in the Sherman Park neighborhood of the U.S. Midwestern city.
Gunshots were fired, six businesses were destroyed by fire and police cars damaged in a neighborhood that suffers from high rates of poverty and crime.
Police defended the shooting of Smith on Sunday, claiming that it was lawful because Smith pointed a gun at the officer. Police Chief Edward Flynn said a silent video from the officer’s body camera showed Smith turning toward the officer with a gun in his hand.
Wisconsin is an “open carry” state, meaning it’s not a crime to possess a firearm in public.
Flynn told a news conference that the officer who fired the fatal shot was Black. Media reports also identified Smith as Black.
Flynn said the officer stopped Smith’s vehicle because he was behaving suspiciously and then had to chase Smith several dozen feet on foot into an enclosed space between two houses.
“I know what I saw. Based on what I saw, didn’t hear, don’t know what the autopsy results are going to be, he certainly appeared to be within lawful bounds,” Flynn said of the officer.
Policing in Milwaukee has been under scrutiny since 2014 when Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill unarmed Black man, was fatally shot in a park by a white officer. That incident that sparked largely peaceful protests.
With Blacks and Latinos representing 56 percent of the city’s population—and largely absent outside the city limits—Milwaukee is, by almost any measure, the nation’s most racially segregated metropolitan area.
In a PBS documentary from earlier this year entitled, “Why Is Milwaukee So Bad for Black people?”, the African-American reporter and Milwaukee native Kenya Downs recounts an old racist joke asserting that the city’s 16th Street viaduct bridge is the longest structure in the world, because it links “Africa to Europe.”
In recent years, police violence against Black men and women in the U.S. has set off intermittent, sometimes violent protests, from Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, to New York City to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Anthony, Minnesota.
The National Guard, which is under the dual control of the federal and state governments, was deployed in Ferguson in Aug. 2014 after several nights of rioting over the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager.
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