A Stormy Week in Wauwatosa
Peaceful protest follows ugly police reaction with injuries to journalist and Alvin Cole’s mother.
Wauwatosa protesters and residents gathered in Hart Park on Thursday, Oct. 15 for a rally for justice for police shooting victim Alvin Cole, organized by Team Roc, the social justice arm of rapper Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. The rally took place just a few blocks from the Wauwatosa village, a local business hub.
Hundreds gathered around the stage to listen to music and the voices of families from around the state who have experienced police violence. Following the rally the group took to Wauwatosa’s streets, marching and chanting, as protesters in the suburb have been doing for months.
On Oct. 14, the City of Wauwatosa posted bullet-pointed guidance on what it considers a peaceful protest. It stated that peaceful protests may include distributing fliers, picketing or protesting, chanting and singing — all if done on a public sidewalk, park, or plaza — as well as marching in the streets using one lane of traffic and proceeding in the right direction.
The post designated blocking access to buildings, marching in the streets using both directions of traffic, blocking intersections, driving motorcycles on sidewalks, fireworks, and shining strobe lights into homes as non-peaceful protest tactics. Other non-peaceful tactics listed included “noises that are unreasonable and disturb the quiet of residential neighborhoods, particularly in late night hours, such as honking horns, using bullhorns, or other loud noises.”
After marching from Hart Park on Oct. 15, protesters did use car caravans to escort the street marchers, blocking traffic and claiming the intersection of 76th and North Avenue for around an hour before heading home. No police stopped the event, threw out spike strips, deployed tear gas, or conducted arrests. And aside from the drone which shadowed the event from daytime until after the sun went down, there was no visible law enforcement presence anywhere.
The encounter was filmed by Sean Kafer, a local documentary filmmaker. As Kafer filmed, a WPD Lieutenant slapped the camera out of Kafer’s hand, and threatened to pepper spray him. Local media picked up the story and views of the videos surged on YouTube. Despite the end of the curfew, marchers were met with a similar response to the one they had experienced in earlier protests — minus the National Guard, who had ended their Wauwatosa support mission.
Through support from the Milwaukee Freedom Fund, the protester was able to make bail. In Kafer’s video, an officer is seen sprinting up to the protester before slipping or tripping into the bicycle as multiple officers rushed in. WPD says two WPD officers sustained minor injuries.
Reliving trauma on stage
For many, the trauma of clashes with police in recent days were still fresh on Oct. 15. Activists and musicians from around the country traveled to the Roc Nation event. They expressed their sympathy to the still-grieving families who lost loved ones in the officer-involved shootings that started the protests, and offered words of encouragement to Milwaukee’s marchers. Over a dozen groups, both local and out-of-state, coalesced to make the event possible. Among them were 50 Miles More, the ACLU of Wisconsin, CommForce MKE, The People’s Revolution, BLAK from Kenosha, Change Is Coming, The Gathering for Justice, Until Freedom, and many others.
Also in attendance were the families of Antonio Gonzales, Jay Anderson, and Alvin Cole, all killed by Wauwatosa officer Joseph Mensah over a five-year period. They described their lost loved ones, and expressed the pain they continue to feel. Standing among them was Tracy Cole, the mother of 17-year-old Alvin Cole. Still recovering from injuries sustained during her arrest by Wauwatosa officers on Oct. 8, she described the day of Alvin’s funeral. “I had dressed my son for the last time,” recounted Cole. “I placed my son in the casket for the last time. I did that as a grieving mother. And the day that I was out here fighting for justice for my son, Alvin, I get ambushed.”
Cole re-told the story of her arrest. “Spikes were thrown in front of our cars,” she said. “They grabbing my daughters and other protesters out of the cars on our way—look [at] it—we was on our way home!” Cole’s arrest was livestreamed on her phone, and recorded by a Daily Caller journalist who was also arrested by officers as Mrs. Cole began screaming in the background.
Describing what she called an ambush, Cole said, “the next thing you know, they turn around to me and they say, ‘get the F out this car,’ and they pulled my hair. And once they pulled my hair, they started punching me in my face. I must’ve been jumped on by five of them. I blanked out. If people want to see what happened to me, my eyes are blackened. I had a big old bump on my head.”
Following her arrest, Cole said that her doctor diagnosed a blood clot in her arm. Cole’s arm was injured during her arrest, and is still in a sling. Prior to the incident, she had medical issues and walked with a cane.
Sean Lowe, chairman of Wauwatosa’s Equity and Inclusion Commission also spoke. “Peaceful protesters were driven out of our city at 7 p.m.,” said Lowe. “No more curfews! No more sundown laws in Wauwatosa! That’s not equitable. That’s not inclusive to the needs of my community when we are grieving out here.”
Lowe, and John Larry, the chairman of Wauwatosa’s Ad Hoc Committee on racial inequity and police issues, both of whom spoke at the Roc Nation event, have been criticized by Chief Weber and the Wauwatosa Peace Officers Association.
Larry is a local school teacher, and had Alvin Cole as a student in his class in elementary school. Larry recalled the teen fondly and said that he’s been unable to sleep lately. Looking out at the crowd during the Roc Nation rally, he said, “enough is enough,” before concluding with a smile, “tonight, I plan on sleeping.”
Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.
- ACLU Calls for National Search for Tosa Police Chief - Isiah Holmes - Feb 23rd, 2021
- Waukesha Faith Group Questions Mensah Hiring - Isiah Holmes - Feb 18th, 2021
- Rep. Bowen Statement on One-Year Anniversary of the Killing of Alvin Cole - State Rep. David Bowen - Feb 2nd, 2021
- About Those Phones Taken By Tosa Police - Isiah Holmes - Feb 1st, 2021
- ACLU Blasts Waukesha Sheriff on Mensah Hiring - Isiah Holmes - Jan 27th, 2021
- Mensah Now a Waukesha Sheriff’s Deputy - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 26th, 2021
- Statement from the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office on Joseph Mensah Hiring - Waukesha County Sheriff's Office - Jan 26th, 2021
- Wauwatosa Police Created ‘Protester List’ - Isiah Holmes - Jan 20th, 2021
- Op Ed: How We’ve Handled the Tosa Protests - Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride - Dec 5th, 2020
- Tosa Police Found ‘Significant Training Issues’ in Shooting by Mensah - Isiah Holmes - Dec 1st, 2020
Read more about Case of Officer Joseph Mensah here