MILWAUKEE — Community activists demanded Thursday to have input on a public safety plan being developed by the Milwaukee Common Council that, in part, adds nearly 300 officers to the force amid strained relations in some neighborhoods over the recent fatal shooting of a black man by police.
Dozens of activists from several community groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, chanted outside the council chambers before they marched into the gallery and insisted they be heard at a council meeting.
“We think that the community should have been involved in any action plan that was written out in regards to our safety,” said activist Markasa Tucker.
The plan from the council’s Public Safety Committee is the result of input from law enforcement, the judiciary, corrections officials and others following an increase in homicides and shootings in Milwaukee last year. The recommendations include the hiring 280 more officers over the next two years in addition to recruitment for an expected surge in retirements.
But, Tucker said the city needs to “divest of law enforcement” and invest in the programs needed to improve social and economic conditions in poor, high-crime neighborhoods.
Another recommendation seeks to improve deteriorating community-police relations through stronger ties with community and faith-based organizations.
The public safety plan was in the works months before Sylville Smith, 23, was fatally shot by a black Milwaukee police officer on Aug. 13. But his death has turned up the temperature on long-simmering frustration over unemployment, high crime and poverty on the city’s predominantly black north side.
Violence, destruction of property and fires that destroyed businesses followed in the hours after Smith died and rocked the Sherman Park neighborhood for two nights. Police have said Smith was holding a gun when he turned toward the officer that shot him.
In the weeks following Smith’s death, law enforcement has tightly controlled the neighborhood where he was shot. More than a dozen arrests were made this week at the site where he was shot as police ordered those gathered to leave the area. Police said Sherman Park neighbors asked officers to disperse the crowd.
The Black Panthers have threatened disturbances, political recalls and economic boycotting if conditions don’t change soon for the economically disadvantaged.
The leader of the Milwaukee group, who identifies himself only as King Rick, shouted from the gallery, interrupting Thursday’s council meeting.
“Either you listen to us or we will force you to listen to us! Milwaukee is suffering and you aren’t doing anything about it but talking!” he hollered.
Council President Ashanti Hamilton said community meetings will be held in the future to get input on the safety plan.
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