Wisconsin Public Radio

Mayor Questions Police Use of Force In Protests

No rubber bullets, limit tear gas, Barrett says.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jun 6th, 2020 11:55 am
Mayor Barrett speaking at a June 5th, 2020 protest march. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Barrett speaking at a June 5th, 2020 protest march. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

For the last week, protesters in Milwaukee have marched the streets demanding justice for George Floyd, the Minneapolis man killed by police while in custody, and Milwaukee resident Joel Acevedo, who died from injuries following a fight with an off-duty Milwaukee police officer who was later charged with homicide.

Protesters are also looking for change to the systemic racism people of color have faced for centuries. They want more resources devoted to neighborhoods of color. And they want more transparency and trust from law enforcement.

Over the last several days the protests have been mostly peaceful, but at times tensions have risen. Police in Milwaukee and Madison have used tear gas on protesters and shot rubber bullets when they have felt threatened.

In an interview Thursday with WPR, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he wants a full review done whenever he sees a video or an incident that raises questions.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to use rubber bullets to disperse crowds of peaceful protesters,” Barrett said. “I want to analyze the use of tear gas very carefully. I’ve let the police chief know my concerns about this. There needs to be a fundamental understanding that there are a lot of peaceful people here who want to see change. At the same time, we can’t be insensitive to the concerns of public safety and others.”

The Milwaukee Police Department did not respond to several interview requests by deadline. On Thursday afternoon, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales was marching with protestors for the first time in seven days.

There have been several instances of Milwaukee police using tear gas to break up demonstrators.

On Tuesday, thousands of protesters started marching from Milwaukee’s south side to downtown at 1 p.m. After hours of protests in the oppressive heat, the evening became a tense standoff between Milwaukee police officers and protestors at the corner of West McKinley Avenue and North 6th Street, just north of downtown.

The Milwaukee Police Department released a video of the incident.

Barrett said he is unsure if the department has used tear gas before the demonstrations, but he is concerned it has been used too often during the recent Black Lives Matter protests following Floyd’s death.

Barrett said in some instances the police have performed “very, very well” over the last week.

“It underscores the challenge we face here locally and in America right now,” Barrett said. “They genuinely believe that they are following the accepted protocol for policing here locally and nationally. That goes to the very core of what the issue is.”

Milwaukee police officers have been hurt. Two officers were hit by a vehicle Thursday during the protests, according to the department. Another officer was shot.

Meanwhile, Barrett continues to call for the firing of suspended Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Mattioli.

Mattioli was charged May 13 with first-degree reckless homicide after a fight at his home in April led to Acevedo’s death.

Mattioli has been suspended from the department and is still receiving his full pay and benefits.

The department continues to release the same statement about the case, saying it’s up to the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (FPC) to fire Mattioli because they took over the police department’s investigation in May.

“As of May 19, 2020, MPD was advised by our oversight body, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, to cease all current investigations moving forward regarding Officer Mattioli and that FPC would be taking control of the investigation and discipline,” the statement reads.

But Barrett said Morales should have fired Mattioli as soon as the district attorney charged him with homicide.

“He did not choose to fire him before the Fire and Police Commission took the case and once they took the case he is in a position that he can’t,” Barrett said. “In my mind, whether the power resides with the police chief or the Fire and Police Commission, one thing is clear: he needs to be removed from the force.”

Barrett said the commission is working on an investigation — but in his mind, the investigation has already been done, by the district attorney who decided to press charges.

“If an individual breaks the law and is charged with a homicide, it’s not even a close call,” Barrett said. “To me that establishes a factual basis right there to terminate the employment of officer Mattioli.”

In other cities, including Minneapolis and Atlanta, mayors have the authority to fire police officers. Giving mayors that authority in Wisconsin would require a change in state statute.

Barrett said he would be supportive of that, but right now he is focused on this case and what is happening in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Mayor Questions Use Of Force By Police During Protests was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

More about the 2020 Racial Justice Protests

Read more about 2020 Racial Justice Protests here

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