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Milwaukee unrest: One person shot during demonstrations; curfew announced for teenagers

A 23-year-old black man named Sylville K. Smith was fatally shot by a black officer in Milwaukee on Saturday, Aug. 13. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Violent unrest continued in Milwaukee late Sunday and early Monday morning, a second night of tension after a fatal police shooting over the weekendWhile the unease did not reach levels seen a night earlier, when multiple buildings were set on fire, it still suggested that the simmering anger could linger for days in Wisconsin’s biggest city. 

In a sign of how officials were trying to manage the situation and considering further steps, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) on Monday said a 10 p.m. weekday curfew would be strictly enforced for teenagers. He also said that officials had spoken to the city attorney’s office to be prepared in case they decide a “more widespread curfew” is needed.

“Parents, after 10 o’clock, your teenagers better be home, or in a place where they’re off the streets,” Barrett said at a news briefing. Speaking of the areas where demonstrations have occurred, he said: “This is not the place where you go to gawk. It is not the place you go to take pictures. It’s not the place you go to drive your car around right now.”

Police said an 18-year-old man was shot Sunday night in the Sherman Park area, which has been the center of the demonstrations, and officers said they used an armored vehicle to get the teenager to the hospital. The 18-year-old was shot in the neck at 11 p.m., and was continuing to receive medical treatment Monday, police said.

Milwaukee police also said that seven law enforcement officers were injured during the unease overnight Sunday and into Monday, and they said at least one officer was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Four Milwaukee officers were injured, including two of whom had glass fragments in their eyes after concrete was thrown through the glass of their squad car, said Edward A. Flynn, the Milwaukee police chief. He also said three Milwaukee county sheriff’s deputies were injured by bricks and rocks thrown at their bodies.

Flynn also said that a riot helmet worn by one officer had a “graze wound to the back of it, probably from a firearm,” he said.

“This was not an evening of insignificant risk for our officers,” Flynn said. “But I am grateful to report, and they would be proud to know, that they successfully protected the community last night.”

According to police, 14 people — 11 men and three women — were arrested overnight Sunday and into early Monday morning for disorderly conduct. All of the people arrested were from Milwaukee.

Three police cars were damaged, while one store had its windows broken, the police said. Authorities also said that their ShotSpotter system — which tracks gunshots — was activated 30 times.

“Gunfire remained a problem last night, as well as gunfire in the vicinity of officers that were attempting to … restrain what disorder did occur,” Flynn said at a briefing Monday. He said police officers never returned fire overnight Sunday, adding that there was “one reported use of police force,” though he did not elaborate on what force was used. 

There were reports of shots fired in parts of the city throughout the night, police said, and video footage from the scene showed crowds facing off with police officers clad in riot gear. Authorities said they used armored vehicles to move into the crowds, while police were also ordering people gathered on the streets to disperse. 

Even as the city reeled in the aftermath of the demonstrations, authorities also released more details about the shooting that sparked the protests.

Police said that the man who was shot Saturday — identified as 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith — was chased by an officer after fleeing a traffic stop about 3:30 p.m. According to Flynn, the Milwaukee police chief, Smith ran to a fenced area and turned to the officer while holding a gun.

The officer, who has not been identified, fired at Smith, hitting him twice and killing him.

Flynn said there was no evidence that Smith fired the gun he had, which he said held 23 bullets at the time.

This shooting was captured by the officer’s body camera, Flynn said during a news conference Sunday. On Monday, Flynn pushed back at suggestions that Smith was unarmed when he was shot, saying again that Smith had a gun in his hand when he was shot. Barrett also said that while he had not seen the full video of the shooting, he saw a still image showing a gun in Smith’s hand.

Flynn also said Monday that the autopsy of Smith showed that the 23-year-old was shot in the chest and arm.

Smith was the 16th person shot and killed by police so far this year in Wisconsin, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings.

Police release more details of fatal shooting

In the hours after that shooting, protests in Wisconsin’s largest city gave way to heated demonstrations that drew national attention. Police said six businesses were set on fire Saturday night and early Sunday morning, while four officers were injured during the chaos.

On Sunday morning, community members gathered to help clean up debris from the fires. Smith’s relatives pleaded for peace after the shooting, saying they were heartbroken by his death but adding that the violence would not help anyone.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., a prolific conservative commentator on cable news and social media, blamed “failed liberal urban policies” for Saturday night’s riots. Clarke, who frequently appears on Fox News and pillories President Obama, was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention last month, where he compared the Black Lives Matter protesters to anarchists.

“The social order in Milwaukee totally collapsed on Saturday night,” Clarke told Fox Business Network on Monday. “And when the social order collapsed, tribal behavior takes over. And when tribal behavior takes over, the law of the jungle replaces the rule of law, and that’s why you end up with what you saw.”

Clarke had asked that the Wisconsin National Guard be mobilized after the violence Saturday night. Gov. Scott Walker (R) said Sunday he activated the Wisconsin National Guard to be ready to help if called upon by law enforcement officials in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Police Department said in the middle of the night that it had not called on the National Guard, saying that local police and other agencies were still responding.

“I join Milwaukee’s leaders and citizens in calling for continued peace and prayer,” Walker said in a statement. “It is also important for citizens to know that Wisconsin is the first state in the nation to have a law requiring an independent investigation anytime there is a shooting by a law enforcement officer that leads to a death. I will not comment on the specifics of the case as it is now under this investigation. I do, however, hope people will give law enforcement the respect that they deserve for working so hard to keep us safe.”

Cities across the country have been propelled into national headlines in recent years after unrest sparked by how police use force, particularly deadly force. This summer, the nation has also remained on edge after police shot and killed black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, followed quickly by shooting attacks that killed officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Police said the officer who shot and killed Smith is a 24-year-old who has been with the department for six years, three of them as an officer. He was not injured and has been placed on administrative duty during the investigation.

Flynn, the police chief, said that the officer is African American, as was Smith. He also said that police were concerned about the officer’s safety and that he was with relatives outside Milwaukee.

The shooting on Saturday is being investigated by Wisconsin’s Division of Criminal Investigation, under a state law signed in 2014 that requires the agency to investigate such deaths.

“I am saddened by the senseless destruction caused by a handful of citizens in Milwaukee and appeal for calm,” Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said in a statement. “I know the vast majority of Milwaukee residents are law-abiding citizens who want and deserve safe neighborhoods and communities. … I pray that the law enforcement officers and firefighters who are working to protect the citizens of Milwaukee will be safe throughout this ordeal and that no other journalists or innocent citizens will be further harmed.”

Schimel vowed that the state would “work expeditiously to ensure a thorough and transparent gathering of the facts.”

The state agency also investigated the shooting death last year of Anthony Robinson Jr. in Madison. When it concluded its probe, it handed the findings to the local district attorney, who said he would not pursue charges.

The current unrest in Milwaukee follows protests and anger last year when the Justice Department said that a former Milwaukee police officer who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton — a man with mental-health problems killed in 2014 — would not face civil rights charges stemming from that shooting.

Not long after, the Justice Department said that its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services would begin what is known as a collaborative reform process with the Milwaukee police force.

These kinds of reviews are not like the “pattern or practice” probes carried out by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — like the one just concluded in Baltimore — which can end with agreements involving court orders. Collaborative reviews, by comparison, involve a review of a police department’s polices and practices, followed by an assessment and publicly released progress reports.

Milwaukee is one of several major American cities still dealing with a recent spike in bloodshed and violence. Last year, homicides in the city spiked significantly, increasing to 146 deaths from 86 a year earlier. The city also saw increases in the overall numbers of violent crimes, according to police statistics.

This story, first published at 8:44 a.m., will be updated throughout the day.

Further reading:

The Post’s database of fatal police shootings in 2016

Wisconsin trooper faced down gunman who planned to go out fighting

Protests erupted in Madison last year after a fatal police shooting

‘We have a problem.’ Homicides are up again this year in more than two dozen major U.S. cities.