'It speaks louder': Milwaukee activists reflect on Juneteenth after weeks of marching

Posted at 10:11 PM, Jun 19, 2020

MILWAUKEE — On this day 155 years ago, the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free.

It's Juneteenth. Many people call it a day of celebration, and many also say it's a time to reflect on the struggle of Black people in America.

This is Milwaukee's 49th year of celebrating Juneteenth. It's always been a historic day, but many now believe this year's celebration will also go down in history.

"After all the events, to me it speaks louder," said Mariah Smith.

Smith is part of The People's Movement, which organized the Juneteenth block party at M.L.K. Drive and Concordia Avenue.

The People's Movement has helped lead marches throughout Milwaukee for 22 days, calling for police reform and an end to racism.

In that time, the Milwaukee Public Schools board voted to end its contract with Milwaukee Police, and Gov. Tony Evers announced a legislation package for police reform.

"We were happy with all the work that has been done, all, everything that has been done, but it’s not enough," Smith said. "For my mom to tell my little brother you have to raise your hands, make sure cops see your hands."

Many people at the Juneteenth celebration have been calling to defund law enforcement.

Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas stopped by the Juneteenth event, and he said he's willing to have a conversation.

"We need to prioritize education, we need to prioritize jobs, we need to prioritize health care," Lucas said. "When we can sit down and have all those conversations, we can talk about what things and resources they need to move around to make those things happen."

Among those hoping for more change is Sedan Smith. He's the brother of Sylville Smith, who was shot and killed by a Milwaukee Police officer in 2016. It led to days of unrest in Sherman Park.

"This is the People's Movement, the longest living Black Lives Matter protest, and I'm proud, and I know my brother is proud, and we're honored to say that we are going to stand here in the city of Milwaukee until we get a change," Smith said.

The group marched to the new Black Lives Matter mural at the intersection of M.L.K. Drive and Locust Street. They stopped to chant and raise their fists with a moment of silence.

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