Young people from the Sherman Park neighborhood reflect on the unrest that took place after the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith by a Milwaukee police officer three years ago.
Name: Sherlean Roberts
Neighborhood: 9th District
School: Dr. Howard Fuller Academy
Favorite part of Sherman Park: The park itself and the Boys & Girls Club
Sherlean Roberts, who represents the 9th District on the Youth Council, recalled watching the unrest unfold via social media. Someone tried to light up a garbage can, while others broke into different buildings, she said. Roberts said during the actual unrest, she only had a vague sense of what was happening. Afterward, she learned more about what sparked the unrest.
In the three years since, Roberts said the biggest change is the Sherman Phoenix, which is considered a “safe space” within in the neighborhood. Moving forward, she said that the community needs to come together, like it did immediately after the unrest.
“No one is going to stop a community that’s together,” she said.
She added that young people need to be a part of the conversation, because they’re the most affected by these decisions. “Give us a voice at the table,” she said.
Name: Tyrane Graham
Neighborhood: Sherman Park
School: Whitefish Bay High School
Favorite part of Sherman Park: The community knows how to have a good time and enjoy each other’s company.
When the unrest broke out in Sherman Park, Tyrane Graham knew that someone had been shot by the police, social media was going crazy and that emotions were running high.
“It was kind of scary because I never though something so serious will happen in Milwaukee,” she said in an email.
At the time, Graham’s brother was home alone.
“We lived down the street from Sherman Park where everything was happening,” she said. “My whole family was worried because there was no way for him to get out … everything was chaotic.”
Graham was tired of hearing about black men being shot. She said the aftermath of the unrest drew the community together but hurt residents’ relationships with law enforcement.
“I think people may want to mend that relationship with police so something like what happened in 2016 doesn’t happen again in Milwaukee,” Graham said.
She wants adults to know that even though there’s been a bigger police presence in the park, kids aren’t always trying to cause trouble.
Name: Nautica Whitelow
Neighborhood: Walnut Hill
School: Purdue Global University
Favorite part of Sherman Park: The park because it’s sentimental.
Nautica Whitelow recalled everyone being hurt and saddened by the events of three years ago. Up until the unrest, Whitelow and friends would hang out in the park – but not anymore.
“It was crazy, just crazy to be in that type of situation,” she said.
Since then, the biggest change is that people don’t go to the parks anymore, she said. And the situation isn’t made better with the police presence.
“I feel that the police haven’t changed and [that] they’ll never change,” she said.
She said that for the community to move forward, it needs to work together. Part of that includes addressing its relationship with law enforcement. Right now, future generations are watching and all they see is tension.
The community and law enforcement need to put all difference aside, respect each other and come out with a plan, she said
Name: Ricky Suggs
Neighborhood: Sherman Park
School: Darrell L. Hines Academy
Favorite part of Sherman Park: The basketball courts
When the unrest in Sherman Park occurred, media stations flocked to cover it. From there, Ricky Suggs heard about the many shooting and fires occurring throughout his neighborhood. Since then, Ricky has noticed that fewer people go to the parks, because they don’t want to be harassed by the police.
“Sometimes we make bad decisions but sometimes the police make bad decisions,” Ricky said.
Ricky noted that police and community relations have improved a bit over time. Certain officers play with the kids, but others continue to harass them, he said. His advice to police officers is to talk first.
“I say don’t reach for your gun first, because sometimes you reach for your gun for nothing,” he said.
Name: Darrin Madison
Neighborhood: Rufus King
Employment: Urban Underground
Favorite part of Sherman Park: The playground and Sherman Perk
In 2016, Darrin Madison was home after his first year of college. At the time he was a paid summer staffer at Urban Underground. Madison along with others, would frequent the park to act as an “adult presence” for the youths.
“There was a whole divide between the sheriff and young people,” Madison said.
One the night that Sylville Smith was shot, the situation reached a new level of escalation. Young people were feeling attacked in a space that they considered theirs, he said. The entire situation was intense.
Three years later, Madison said there’s a lack of resources for young people, especially ones that help them transition into adulthood.
“There’s a gap and we need to do better because we failed them [young people],” said Madison.
Madison added that the relationship between law enforcement and the community has improved in some ways but is lacking in others.
“The expectation is on the community to carry the weight of that dynamic,” he said.
The relationship can become better, but the police need to “address the elephant in the room” and acknowledge that their actions have left a scar on the community.
Name: Kalan Haywood II
Neighborhood: Brewers Hill
Employment: State representative of the 16th District
Favorite part of Sherman Park: The rich history and the neighborhood’s ability to bounce back despite adversity.
At the time of the unrest, Haywood as a member of the City of Milwaukee Youth Council. The uprising was a dark moment, but it made people realize they needed to come together, he said in an email.
Since then, Haywood noted that there’s a strong sense of support for the neighborhood that goes beyond its residents and into the greater Milwaukee area.
He believes that now is the time to bridge the generational divide and to start having “much needed conversations.”
“…We will need the energy and creativity of young people to be married with the experiences and wisdom of our elders,” Haywood said.
About Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Ana serves as NNS’ newly created community engagement reporter and is responsible for writing stories that help our readers navigate their lives as well as making sure they know the fun things that are happening in their neighborhoods. You can email her here or call (414) 604-6397.
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