Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Are Police Overreacting to Protests?

So says ACLU, others. Others want a tougher response. What’s the proper balance?

By - Jun 2nd, 2020 01:45 pm
George Floyd Protest March. Photo taken June 1st, 2020 by Graham Kilmer.

George Floyd Protest March. Photo taken June 1st, 2020 by Graham Kilmer.

On Sunday night I watched the protestors reacting to the killing of George Floyd go west on Locust Ave. It was almost all cars, many blocks long, all beeping horns (at about 11 p.m.). It seemed like an ingenious way to protest during a pandemic, avoiding a massing of pedestrians potentially transmitting COVID-19 and also making it difficult for police to arrest anyone without causing a major incident and potential auto accidents. 

Yes, the protestors were violating the city’s 9 p.m. curfew, but considering where this country is at, plunged into anguish and anger by the killing of yet another black man by police, it seemed like a very peaceful and constructive response. At worst, some east siders who went to bed early were awakened by the beeping. 

On Monday night I heard a noise around the same time, about 11 p.m., and went out to see a mass of police and sheriff cars and wagons, some 15 in all, gathered on Cambridge Ave. for reasons unclear (I saw and heard no protestors), until they finally took off, turning onto Locust and driving west. It was frankly chilling to see such a show of force. 

But it was nothing compared to the massing of city, county, suburban and state police and riot squads at Oakland and Edgewood on Sunday night, as captured by the cameras of Channel 12 news. It looked like a massing of the military. Had the Russians landed on Lake Michigan’s beaches? 

“What was a small, peaceful, unremarkable gathering of people on the border of Shorewood and the City of Milwaukee was very suddenly surrounded by scores of law enforcement, from five different jurisdictions, in militarized vehicles and full riot gear,” Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy noted in a press release published by Urban Milwaukee.

“No arrest at that scene was for a violent act,” Clancy continued, “nor even for the sort of property crime that some media outlets are focusing on more than the loss of life at the core of this protest. No crimes were stopped. Nobody was protected. Every arrest at that scene was primarily for a curfew violation. And those arrests were brutal. The Milwaukee Police Department did not issue orders and then arrest people for failing to comply, but simply grabbed and tackled people, throwing them to the ground. I was among them.”

“Clancy pleaded with officers to be released before being put in a wagon at approximately 10:50 p.m.,” as Urban Milwaukee reported. “Clancy was not told what he was being charged with and officers in riot gear debated the matter after putting him in a wagon.”

Clancy tells Urban Milwaukee the police forced people from the Shorewood side of the street to the Milwaukee side, which thereby made them city curfew violators and then began arresting them. One young man, he notes, was thrown by police into the front grill of a police truck and got up dazed by the blow. 

The ACLU of Wisconsin condemned the police for overreacting to the protests, for “violent and militant tactics against demonstrators, most of whom were peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to protest,” the group’s Executive Director Chris Ott declared. “Protesters… should not be met with rubber bullets, tear gas and other militarized weapons by the same government entity that they are protesting against.”

Meanwhile there are some calling for more policing. “The emails I’m getting are saying ‘where are the police to stop this destruction?’ Especially from downtown people in my district,” says Ald. Bob Bauman. 

But who exactly is causing the looting and arson? Urban Milwaukee’s Jeramey Jannene, who has probably done as much reporting of the protests as anyone, has observed three straight nights of peaceful protests. The violence has arisen after the protests. 

A police officer was shot after the organized protest ended in the early hours of Saturday and looting began of businesses in the Martin Luther King Dr. area. Alderman and Common Council President Cavalier Johnson notes that footage of the person setting fire to the Walgreen’s on MLK and North Ave. showed a white man — in what is a largely black neighborhood. People in the neighborhood saw crimes being committed “by people from out-of-state license plates,” he says. 

Nobody knows for sure who is committing the crimes and how many perpetrators are connected to the marches. But it seems safe to say the brutal treatment of pedestrians witnessed by Clancy is an overreaction. 

There’s also the question of the message being sent by the police. In Waukesha police went to their knees to show solidarity with protestors, something seen in other cities.  Johnson says he would like to see that from Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales and County Sheriff Earnell Lucas. “The could cause some heeling in the community,” he says. 

Johnson adds that he’d like to see the police reach out more to the community, to be willing “to discuss their strategies and engage with community in times of unrest” and allow the community a chance “to interact with the police.”

Instead Morales has mostly been about a get-tough message. “We are going to be more aggressive in addressing that negative behavior that’s out there,” he warned last night. “We are going to be taking action.” As to what that means, “We will explain it after it happens.” he said.

To a community that is hurting, that’s a pretty tone deaf message. 

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2 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Are Police Overreacting to Protests?”

  1. says:

    Outrageous behavior by the police. Over-reacting–yes!
    You are just fueling further anger and unrest.
    Law enforcement is taking advantage of the ongoing
    lack of accountability for their actions–and a clueless
    and racist president is fanning the flames.

  2. says:

    Good for you, Bruce. I appreciated your response to the over response from police, etc.
    Chris Christie

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