By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
This year marked the start of a new decade and a chance to shake things up. Suffice to say, no one expected the year to turn out like it did. From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, 2020 has caused to the nation to stop and deeply look at what is happening in each and every community.
Last week Friday, July 3, Mayor Tom Barret along with other city officials held a press conference to discuss racial equity, justice and violence in Milwaukee.
“All of us recognized that in 2020 we have been challenged in ways that we have never been challenged before,” said Barrett.
It began with the pandemic, which lead to an economic fallout, he said. Many people lost their jobs, had reduced hours or were furloughed. Then Floyd was murdered by a police officer.
His death forced the world to see what was really happening in America and for Americans to reflect on it.
“It’s a time when we have to reflect on the racism that has led us to where we are in terms of police community strife,” said Barret. “[And a time] where we have to recognize the economic disparities that are present in our community.”
Barrett said that coming in to 2020, he was full of hope. The past year there had been a reduction in homicide and non-violent shootings. This year, boasted of the potential for job growth, the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA playoff and the Democratic National Convention.
But the 2020 that has played out since January tells a different story one that’s seen 86 homicides as of Friday, July 3 and an increase in non-fatal shootings. This level of violence cannot be accepted, he said.
“We as a community have to come together to reduce the violence in this city,” said Barrett. “And I am calling on everyone to be involved in this.”
Fundamental change is necessary, but everyone – police groups included – need to band and work together, he said.
Milwaukee needs to be a city where everyone feels safe. Right now, there’s a lot of energy and it should be used to gain peace and work for social change, Barrett said.
Common Council President Cavalier Johnson also spoke.
“In Milwaukee right now there’s a lot of pent up frustration and anger and restlessness,” Johnson said. “That’s true and that’s valid because of what’s happening to people of color not just in this community but across this state.”
People want to see systemic change, he said. That’s why every single night regardless of the weather or the location, people are marching. And the government is taking action to address the systemic issues that have caused far too many deaths especially among Black people, he said.
In every part of Milwaukee, children and neighborhoods should be safe. No none should have to worry about violence in their neighborhoods. From the central city to the suburbs, people want their children to be safe, quality education and for systemic issues to be addressed, Johnson said.
“[Milwaukeeans should] use all of that that positive energy and use it for good and make sure that people who live in this city get exactly what they want,” said Johnson. “That’s to be treated fairly and that’s to be treated with respect and that’s to be sure that in their neighborhoods you can have a decent quality of life.”
Reggie Moore, director of the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention, said that they thought the pandemic would slow down the homicide rate, but when it didn’t, it stressed the need for things to be done differently.
In 2015, there was a spike in homicides. In response, the Office of Violence Prevention and its community partners created the Blueprint for Peace. The blueprint offers tactics and measures for dealing not only with individual and interpersonal violence but systemic and instructional violence as well, Moore explained. In a way, it was ahead of its time.
Right now, many cities like Milwaukee are reimagining what policing and public safety looks like, he said.
“It has to be an all hands-on deck effort,” Moore said. “We all have a role to play, although we have our lanes in terms of violence interruption, outreach, ministry or policy.”
Moore said that the best and most urgent peacemakers exist in every family, neighborhood and event because they see things escalate before anyone else. He asked that everyone strive to be the peacemaker in their homes and in this city to reduce violence.
“As human beings we are all destined to meet death, but we are not destined to be murdered,” Moore said. “No individual should fear being shot or fear being killed in this city or any city.