‘People are so pissed off, and they don’t know what else to do’: Young Wisconsinites on Milwaukee riots

‘It’s become a matter of Blue Lives Matter vs. Black Lives Matter’

Tensions remain high in Milwaukee, WI as riots follow the death of a young African-American, Sylville Smith.

Smith, 23, was shot Saturday afternoon by 24-year-old African-American police officer, who according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is Dominique Heaggan-Brown.  The police say Smith was carrying a semi-automatic handgun and refused to drop his weapon. The police officer fired his weapon, and Smith died on the scene.


Smith’s sister claims the pair went to school together. Heaggan-Brown is also known around Milwaukee as the musician “KB Domo”. Heaggan-Brown has been receiving death threats since the shooting.

Saturday evening the rioting began. Multiple fires were started at local businesses, such as BMO Harris, MJM Liquor, and Jet Beauty Supply.

According to the Milwaukee Police Department’s tweets, there have been 24 total arrests, four injured officers, and one injured civilian since the time of the shooting.

The rioting stems from the large racial divide that exists in the Milwaukee community.

“When you drive from my house to downtown there is a clear socioeconomic divide where the community shifts from primarily white to African-American dominant neighborhoods.” Hillary Miller, a 18 year-old Milwaukee resident, said.

According to the city of Milwaukee health assessment, Milwaukee is the most segregated large city in the nation.

Miller believes people are fed up with the condition of the community, and they see no hope for the future, and that is why they have resorted to rioting.

Addie Mayfield, a 20-year-old African-American resident of Wisconsin, agrees.

“People are so pissed off, and they don’t know what else to do,” Mayfield said. “Being African-American and living in the society we do, it’s game time as soon as we walk out the door.”

Mayfield cites examples of everyday struggles African-Americans have. Sometimes people automatically assume that because of her race she is doing something illegal, but she does not believe the rioting is the best way to fight back and feels for her friends in Milwaukee that are afraid to leave their homes.

Nick Schieldt, a student at Marquette University, said he didn’t leave his apartment this weekend because students received a letter from president of the University advising them not to go outside.

“It’s scary to think that you could go outside and something could happen to you. In my hometown I don’t have that worry.” Schieldt said.

Schieldt and Mayfield agree that the shooting was not a race issue.

“The officer was black, this isn’t about race,” Mayfield said. “No matter if the police officer was white or black, the man with the gun is unsafe to the people and community around him, so the officer is doing what he was trained to do in a situation where not only the community is in danger, but so are the cops.”

Mike Anthony, a 23-year-old Milwaukee resident, agrees the issue should not be about race, but the media has turned it into a race issue by the way the story is being covered

“All of the media articles are titled ‘Black Teen Shot During Traffic Stop,’ but that’s not right because he was shot when he ran from the police and pointed a loaded gun at them.” Anthony said.

Miller believes that in order to create a change in the community the narrative needs to be reframed. Relationships need to be established between the police and the members of the community she said.

“It’s become a matter of Blue Lives Matter vs. Black Lives Matter, and it should be blue and black work in concert to create higher standards for how the two should interact.” Miller said.