MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — The deadly shooting of an armed man by Milwaukee police stirred anger, fear and disbelief as authorities worked to restore calm after a night of violent protest.
Peaceful demonstrations Saturday on the city’s north side over the death of 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith turned violent as the evening progressed, Mayor Tom Barrett said at a news conference Sunday.
Protesters burned six businesses, including a gas station, and threw rocks at police, leaving four officers injured, seven police vehicles damaged and 17 people arrested.
“Last night was unlike anything I’ve seen. I hope I never see it again,” Barrett said.
Barrett commended police for their handling of the protests. Police did not fire any shots, but a stray round fired from the crowd hit a 16-year-old, leaving her with nonlife-threatening injuries.
Questions remain in Smith’s death. Police body camera footage showed Smith holding a handgun, Barrett said. It was loaded with 23 rounds, more than the officer was carrying.
“A young man lost his life yesterday afternoon. And, no matter what the circumstances, his family must be hurting,” he said.
Local officials planned to meet with church and community leaders Sunday to discuss ways to move forward.
“I never thought I would see my own city in a state of unrest and a potential riot,” a resident told CNN affiliate WDJT.
‘Racial problems’ in Milwaukee
It all started Saturday afternoon, when a pair of police officers stopped two people driving through the north-side neighborhood, police said. A foot chase ended when an officer shot Smith after ordering him to put down his gun.
“He had the gun with him and the officer fired several times,” Barrett said. Smith was shot in the arm and chest, the mayor said.
The handgun he carried was stolen during a burglary in nearby Waukesha in March, according to police.
“The victim of that burglary reported 500 rounds of ammunition were also stolen with the handgun,” police said.
Smith died at the scene, and the officer who fired the fatal shots was not injured. The officer is 24 years old and has six years of service with the Milwaukee Police Department — three as an officer. He will be placed on administrative duty during an investigation.
It was unclear Sunday whether the second occupant of the car was in police custody.
The shooting occurred near the location of an August 9 double homicide in which a man was shot dead and another was fatally stabbed, police said.
City Alderman Khalif Rainey said the area has been a “powder keg” for potential violence throughout the summer.
“What happened tonight may not have been right and I am not justifying that but no one can deny the fact that there are problems, racial problems in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that need to be rectified,” Rainey said. “This community of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has become the worst place to live for African-Americans in the entire country.”
Rainey said Saturday’s violence was a byproduct of inequities, injustice, unemployment and under-education.
“Something has to be done to address these issues,” he said. “The black people of Milwaukee are tired; they are tired of living under this oppression, this is their life.”
Go home, mayor pleads
As the chaos escalated Saturday, the mayor pleaded with protesters to end their demonstrations.
“If you love your son, if you love your daughter, text them, call them, pull them by the ears and get them home. Get them home right now before more damage is done,” Barrett said.
“I know this neighborhood very, very well. And there are a lot of really really good people who live in this area — in the Sherman Park area, who can’t stand this violence.”
Tensions remained high in the neighborhood Sunday. The crowd near the BP gas station set on fire Saturday night ebbed and flowed throughout the day as people gathered to talk and vent.
The National Guard is activated but it will not be deployed unless authorized by police Chief Edward Flynn, Barrett said.
By state law, the Wisconsin Department of Justice will lead the investigation.
By Faith Karimi, Joe Sutton, Thom Patterson and Ryan Young