On the afternoon of Sunday, May 1st, 2022; a Black woman slowly driving an SUV dances in her seat. She’s smiling broadly, and making regular, encouraging eye contact with the drumline she’s driving alongside of.
Like the street procession they’re leading up Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the drumline is small, but dedicated. Really, it’s just about five or six kids, led by a man who’s clearly in his element. The drumline leader, wearing the same red shirt as the student’s he’s leading, is himself drumming, instructing, laughing and interacting with nearly everyone around who’s come by or stumbled upon the scene to watch and listen. The kids drumming are skilled, disciplined, and project a controlled, somber attitude to match this particular procession’s occasion. The drumline is all Black.
What we have here is the Youth Victory Over Violence March, organized by Milwaukee Excellence charter school. A handful of members of the wider community have come to join as well, in an effort to call attention to Milwaukee’s historic explosion of gun-violence over the past few years.
But all and all, it’s a slightly odd sight to see. In total, the marchers here are roughly matched in number by the motley cast of characters who’ve generously assembled to provide security to the drummers and the supporters walking behind them.
The Black woman slowly driving and dancing is a Milwaukee Police Department Officer in a black and white SUV. She’s one of several MPD vehicles leading the way north up MLK Drive, protecting the peaceful protesters.
But more groups have come to provide security support as well. Dressed exactly as you might imagine, two separate Motorcycle “Clubs” are here too. One of the clubs is all Black. One of the clubs is all White. Both of them ride either behind the leading police vehicles, or along the sides or back of the marchers, preventing regular neighborhood traffic from interrupting the procession’s flow.
A lone Black Panther lends a hand as well. He alone protects the marchers left flank, progressively running up to and posting up at each successive intersection on foot.
The march began around 2:00pm, having assembled near Vine St. There, a prayer circle was held, during which it was mentioned that that very morning, Milwaukee’s latest homicide had just taken place. It was a domestic violence incident which occurred just several blocks west of where the march would pass through on the intersection of MLK Drive and North Ave.
As the drumline, the supporting protesters, several journalists, and a heavy load of DIY security providers passed that intersection, surely some noticed the new, curiously located Republican Party of Wisconsin corner office space. Among the many loud political posters adorning the office’s windows is one boasting the message, “The Republican Party: Fighting Racism Since 1854.”
The march ended on Clarke St, only about one mile from its starting point. There, from the small Victory Over Violence Plaza on the west side of MLK Drive, some final remarks were shared.
The most powerful speaker was a 9th grade girl. She decried the fact that her family no longer lets her go outside after 8:00pm because of the increased frequency of shootings on her block.
The 9th grader described three separate shootings she had personally witnessed in brutal detail. On one of these occasions, she stated she’d watched a neighborhood woman “bleed out” after being shot in the neck.
The 9th grader confidently articulated the need for Milwaukee to do something about “the people holding us hostage in our own houses.”
After the speakers had finished, some of the bikers invited everyone to join them at a nearby public park for free food and fellowship.
And just like that, this largely student-led act of creative public protest was over, and Milwaukee went back to being Milwaukee.
Driving home not long after the march’s conclusion, my car’s path was blocked by a rash of nearly a dozen blue and red flashing police vehicles, most of which were inside of a city-block-wide rectangle coordained off by yellow “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape.
The scene unfolding before me transpired on Burleigh St, in between 14th and 15th. In addition to the black and white squad cars and vans, a firetruck and an ambulance are parked squarely in the middle of the block as well.
I park my car and walk to the edge of the yellow tape line. The first thing that hits me as I approach are the four children milling about on the sidewalk on the other side of the yellow line. They are only several yards away from the ambulance.
A solitary news camera man stands on the street next to me as he films the aftermath. I ask if he knows what happened. “A shooting.” He responds.
Just then, the front door of a home inside the tape opens. A Black woman dressed in pink yoga pants, a black hoodie and beanie tentatively walks down her front steps with her index finger raised in the air. “Excuse me,” she calls to the nearest police officer on scene, a White man. “I have a question...” The officer approaches her. Turns out, the woman had just parked down the street and entered her home before the bullets began to fly. She still had her groceries in the car. Moments later, she and the officer can be seen returning from the car carrying her grocery bags up her steps. This process requires several trips.
An old man, dressed elegantly, approaches me and asks where exactly the shooting took place. He’s Black, cross-eyed, and clearly under significant emotional duress. I tell him that unfortunately I don’t know anything other than that there was some kind of shooting. He moans in dread, and tells me that his children and grandchildren live in the middle of the block. He mills about for while, fretting and muttering to himself in the agony of the unknown. He soon finds a neighbor to talk to. The woman advises him to “Pray on it...You gotta think positive!” She reassures.
This block of Burleigh is almost entirely residential homes. Most appear to be occupied, but several are abandoned, boarded up. The corner I stand on hosts the Metropolitan Missionary Church, an engraving on the side dates that the building’s opening was in February of 1937.
Across the street on the opposite corner sits one of the north side’s many ghosts of small, local businesses past. Four crumbling steps lead from the sidewalk up to the rusted metal gate blocking the former entrance to what was once Walter’s Grocery. A cream, red and blue “Heileman’s Old Style” sign is still posted from the upper level. Faded, hand painted advertisements are still partially visible on the shop’s outer street level walls. One says “4 for 1...” another says, “We Accept Food Stamps.”
The cameraman that was here when I arrived is now gone. Two others have come in his place.
Behind me, where Burleigh is still open, an audibly angry young Black woman pulls up to ask a neighbor who it was that got shot. Moments later, she peels off fast, her tires screeching, after yelling, “Guess who gonna be next?! Guess who gonna be next?!”
Around a half hour into my observation of the scene, the ambulance departs. Just like he’d done for the firetruck which had already left, the officer who helped the woman with her groceries (along with another officer) used his foot to bend the yellow tape from chest level down to the street so the EMS vehicles could pass over without having to redo whole tape line.
When I get home, I check the local news, and as expected, am still able to learn next to nothing.
All I can find is the following. At about 4:40pm this here Sunday, a double shooting occurred between two young Black men over “an argument” near the intersection of 15th and Burleigh. Both men shot each other successfully. When it was over, the unidentified 24-year-old had been non-fatally hit, arrested, and transported to Froedtert Hospital.(1)
Azarion V. Waits, the 20-year-old, was dead.(2)
Scanning through the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s newsfeed the night of May 1st, a photo-filled story about the Victory Over Violence March was prominently featured.(3) But news of the double shooting and homicide which occurred in broad daylight on a residential street in Wisconsin’s largest city was nowhere to be found.
Seeking further information the following day, I began the process of examining the recent spreadsheet record of all calls for service made to the MPD.(4) The shear deluge of reports of crime and requests for law enforcement’s help was stunning and overwhelming. Logistically, I quickly realized, there is simply no way the MPD can adequately respond to the majority of calls it receives.
I decided to hone in specifically on one of the most common and devastating violent crimes Milwaukee deals with: gun violence.
I wanted to find out, during the first week of May alone, how many calls or reports of guns being fired in the city was the MPD actually dealing with?
This is what I found.
From May 1st to May 7th, 2022; 25 human beings were shot with a gun in Milwaukee.(4)
But shooting an unwilling human target with a gun in the street is harder than you may think. Most times when someone tries to shoot someone else, they miss.
From May 1st to May 7th, the MPD received 160 separate calls from residents reporting gunfire around them.(4) Presumably, in most of these cases, no one was actually struck by a bullet.
But not all shots fired in Milwaukee are reported. In an effort to capture data around gunfire that no one reports in Milwaukee, the MPD use a tool called ShotSpotter.(5) Using high-tech sensors which can hear and record audible gunfire in their vicinity, the MPD receives more complete intel about the incredible quantity of daily trigger-pulling in the city.
From May 1st to May 7th, ShotSpotter recorded a grand total of 287 additional incidents of shots fired in Milwaukee which were not called in for report by residents.(4)
In total, this means that during the first week of May of 2022, civilians shot guns in Milwaukee, presumably mostly at other civilians, at least 472 separate times.
472 times, in seven days.
The two cameramen who arrived at the scene on Burleigh St after I did are now gone as well.
It’s still dark and cloudy, like it’s been here nearly every day of our 2022 so far. But at least the weather this May 1st has given us 51 whole degrees to work with.
The four kids I saw earlier standing around the ambulance where a dead man had just been loaded into are now up on the steps and the porch of one of the homes in the middle of the block.
The kids, in unison, are dancing.
1. Outline of the May 1st Double Shooting on 15th and Burleigh
2. 20-year-old Azarion V. Waits Dies in May 1st Double Shooting on 15th and Burleigh
3. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel coverage of Youth Victory Over Violence March on May 1st
4. Recent Milwaukee Police Department Call Logs
5. ShotSpotter technology