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360: Interrupting Milwaukee's rising homicide trends in 2021

Posted at 6:42 PM, Dec 31, 2020

MILWAUKEE — Guns, reckless driving and domestic violence are just a few factors that contributed to a record-breaking 189 homicides in the City of Milwaukee in 2020.

Why in 2020, and how do we interrupt the rising trends of violence in the year ahead? To answer those questions, we are going 360 and talking to several members of the community to gain perspective on what interrupting this deadly trend looks like in the year ahead.

We start by speaking to mothers of homicide victims.

Rosemary Coleman buried her daughter Sandra on September 12th.

She was killed in late august while driving home from work near Silver Spring and Fond du Lac in Late August. Today, Rosemary says she is still waiting for answers about exactly what happened, but she knows the death was ruled a homicide.
"She was innocent to whatever was going on," said Coleman.

Coleman said Sandra was a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). Just two days after she was buried, a letter arrived in the mail. Rosemary said the letter showed Sandra made the Dean's list.

It was an accomplishment that pushed Rosemary to begin working with United Garden Homes Inc. to establish a scholarship in Sandra's name.

It's twist of positivity in a year that can't cover up the pain left behind by 189 homicides in 2020. It's more than just a number or a statistic, but a reality for so many in Milwaukee.

"Every time we hear this, it brings up those wounds," said Coleman.

For Rosemary and for so many other Milwaukee families, there is no escape from the violence.

"It is a constant form of being re-traumatized," said Shantell Riley, who lost her son, Jevontese, to gun violence in 2016.

After four and a half years of improving homicide trends in Milwaukee between 2015 and 2019, Riley calls this year's record-breaking spike "disheartening."

"It's very traumatizing to know that these numbers are actually increasing, and we don't have a solution to it," said Riley.

She is now training to become a grief counselor to help others in the community cope. Riley looks ahead to 2021 while advocating for community resources that she says are vital to curbing violence and breaking generations of pain in our community.

She said community outreach efforts must be funded in the year ahead because they not only reach those directly targeted by violence, but also those who are left behind after a homicide - specifically, family and friends.

"We don't need more police. We need more community programs, we need more community support, we need community resources so we don't have to continue to function in survival mode all the time," said Riley.

Dale Bormann sees things differently. He is the president of the Milwaukee Police Association.

"Our officers are being spread extremely thin already and to be down another 120 officers, 150 officers, they're going to be spread even more thin and they're tired," he said.

Bormann says police officers in Milwaukee are not respected. Many of them are retiring or looking for jobs elsewhere.

In Milwaukee, a shrinking budget could cut 150 officers in 2021, meaning there may be fewer people investigating crimes.

"It seems like right now its the officers doing all the work to solve these crimes and we're not getting help from citizens," said Bormann.

Because of this, Bormann warns 2021 could be just as deadly as 2020.

That's also a concern felt by Desilynn Smith, who works with United Garden Homes Inc. and 414Life, two anti-violence groups that work to mediate violence by going door-to-door and connecting resources to people who need them. Those doing the outreach often intervene in situations before things turn deadly.

She says community resources are also being spread too thin.

The impacts of the COVID-19 virus are shaking the economy and making it tougher to go door-to-door to reach people directly.

"On top of the record-breaking homicides, I think the biggest trauma right now is the fear with the unknown with the COVID," said Smith.

Smith said the connections that the anti-violence organizations make in the community are vital to interrupting crimes like homicides.

But, these trends, amid the ongoing pandemic, are taking a toll.

"Every other day its some tragic story and then when it hits closer and closer to your street, to your family, to someone you grew up with, that takes a toll on us," said Smith.

Reggie Moore, with Milwaukee's office of Violence Prevention suggests the solution may fall into the hands of lawmakers.

"We would like to see policymakers respond to gun violence with the same level of urgency, focus and commitment as was seen in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Gun violence has been a pandemic for a very long time," he said.

He says in order for Milwaukee to be able to return to the momentum we saw in the 4-years leading up to 2020, when homicide rates were dropping, there is a need for policy change.

"We've seen though this pandemic what the country can do, how it can pull together, how it can invest in research, how it can invest in programs and services to provide safety-nets to implement moratoriums on evictions to protect vulnerable families, these are all things that need to be brought to bear in terms of our commitment to our strategy around violence in our city.

An urgent call for local policymakers to act now and help fight currently deadly trends, while also fighting for a more peaceful 2021.

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