BBC Report on City Is Real
For those who know city's neighborhoods, the documentary echoes our experience.
Although I hadn’t yet seen the the BBC report by Louis Theroux, “Dark States: Murder in Milwaukee,” the news of it was hard to miss. Walking into any gas station or coffee house in town you’d see the disapproval of residents (“documentary… sparks outrage”) covered as a front page story.
Many felt the version of Milwaukee portrayed through the film’s gritty perspective was negative. Here’s the thing, though, the footage doesn’t lie.
I’ve lived in Milwaukee all my life in a couple different parts of town. Moving around offered a taste of various neighborhoods in the city. So I’ve always known Milwaukee had a gun violence problem, and didn’t need school to teach me. On occasion, I’d hear shots off in the distance from my childhood home.
I grew up routinely driving past countless crude roadside memorials. You could usually tell which ones were from car accidents and which were shootings. Car accidents almost always had twisted, blackened metal nearby, while the memorials to shootings were more intuitive. The lonely sight of a dirty teddy bear strapped to a street light staring out at nothing. Normally the victim was identified, with the last words from nameless loved ones.
I’d never experienced an urban war zone before, where the air seemed filled with bullets. It felt as if any one of the rounds could stray and strike my aunt’s house. I could make out two distinct firing positions with at least two parties on either side. After several seconds, the exchange ended with something automatic firing what seemed like 800 rounds a minute or better. My heart beat harder, and then the night’s sounds segued into distant sirens closing towards the neighborhood.
Friends of mine have similar stories, a few with closer brushes to the violence. A couple were shot at while minding their own business in Washington Park early one evening. Others lost friends, and one was ten years old when he somehow “held my first grenade,” as he described it to me. A childhood friend of mine died a few years ago after being shot. Just a couple months ago, someone fired a pistol half a block away while I sat at a stop sign.
The point being that although it’s a dreadful issue, it’s Milwaukee’s reality. Many criticisms of Theroux’s film seem to center around the question of whether the documentary was too negative and should have presented the city in a better light. Particularly, interviews with a mother whose shotgun never leaves her side disturbed many. A similar thing happened after the 2016 Milwaukee riots, people were fed up with the coverage. Maybe they got fatigued from all the “negative” headlines.
Another criticism was the BBC film didn’t focus enough on active anti-gun violence programs in the city. But however well intended those initiatives are, the problem still remains. We shouldn’t kick, scream and cry over what one journalist was able to capture on film. Rather, community leaders should perhaps see it as the sobering, outsider’s view we all needed. While the footage might make you uncomfortable, it’s just another day for many in Milwaukee.
Isiah Holmes, is a writer and videographer.