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Milwaukee police chief blames outsiders for violence

Published 15/08/2016

Sylville Smith was shot by a black officer after turning towards him with a gun in his hand, the police chief said (Milwaukee County Sheriff/ AP)
Sylville Smith was shot by a black officer after turning towards him with a gun in his hand, the police chief said (Milwaukee County Sheriff/ AP)

The Milwaukee police chief has blamed outside agitators after a second straight night of violence hit the city's mostly black north side in protest at the fatal shooting of a black man by police.

Edward Flynn said a Chicago chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Party upended what had until then been a peaceful Sunday night by leading marchers down several blocks at around 11.30pm.

An 18-year-old man was shot and wounded during the latest unrest, which was milder and far less destructive than Saturday night's confrontation but still left the city tense.

TV footage showed a small group of protesters walking or running through the streets, sometimes toppling orange construction barriers.

Fourteen people were arrested. Three police officers and four sheriff's deputies were hurt.

Both Mr Flynn and the city's mayor Tom Barrett credited church groups and "many others" for staging peaceful demonstrations, prayers and vigils earlier on Sunday, as well as volunteers who turned out to sweep and pick up debris after Saturday night's violence.

However, Mr Barrett singled out groups of young people on the streets of the Sherman Park neighbourhood who he said were intent on causing trouble.

"Those individuals, in my mind, are deliberately trying to damage a great neighbourhood in a great city," he said at a news conference.

Mr Barrett warned parents and guardians that police will be strictly enforcing the city's 10pm curfew for teenagers.

"This is not the place where you go to gawk, this is not the place where you go to take pictures," he said. "This is not the place where you go to drive your car around."

The problems began on Saturday afternoon after a black police officer shot and killed a black man after a traffic stop.

Police said 23-year-old Sylville K Smith was fleeing and had a stolen handgun when he was shot; adding that bodycam footage clearly shows him holding the weapon.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is investigating Mr Smith's death, as required by state law for police-involved shootings.

Mr Barrett said he hoped the officer's body camera video could be released soon.

Governor Scott Walker put the National Guard on standby on Sunday, but so far no Guard members have been deployed.

The 18-year-old Milwaukee man who was shot and wounded in Sunday night's violence was retrieved by a police armoured vehicle and taken to a hospital.

Mr Flynn said the man "doesn't seem to be in medical danger". Police did not say who shot the man but that they were looking for suspects.

Mr Flynn said that while police came under fire on Sunday night, "none of our officers returned fire".

Police cited Mr Smith's "lengthy criminal record" as they identified him. Online court records showed a range of offences that were mostly misdemeanors.

In a more serious case, he was accused in a shooting last year and charged with recklessly endangering safety.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Mr Smith was subsequently accused of pressuring the victim to recant statements that identified him as the gunman and was charged with trying to intimidate a witness.

The charges were dropped because the victim recanted the identification and failed to appear in court, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern told the newspaper.

Speaking at a Sunday night vigil, Mr Smith's sister, Kimberley Neal, told The Associated Press that the family wants prosecutors to charge the officer who shot him.

The anger at Milwaukee police is not new and comes as tension between black communities and law enforcement has ramped up across the nation, resulting in protests and the recent ambush killings of eight officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas.

Nearly 40% of Milwaukee's 600,000 residents are black, and they are heavily concentrated on the north side.

Milwaukee was beset by protests and calls for police reform after an officer shot and killed Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill black man, in 2014.

In December, the US Justice Department announced it would work with Milwaukee police on changes.

Critics said the police department should have been subjected to a full Justice Department investigation like the one done in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of black 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014 touched off violence there.


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