Sherman Park residents rebuild one year after violence

Last summer’s violence in Sherman Park is now so well-chronicled, nearly everyone in Milwaukee knows the basic timeline, but residents said their neighborhood was an unlikely place for last summer’s violence.

The saga began on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 13 last year. Patrol officers investigating drug activity stopped a rental car.

Sylville Smith and another man jumped and ran. Police said Smith, armed with a loaded handgun, ignored police orders to stop. Officer Dominique Haagen-Brown shot Smith twice at 44th and West Auer Avenue, killing the 23-year-old.

Within hours of the shooting, an angry crowd began to build on a steamy Milwaukee night. Ultimately violence erupted. Businesses were set on fire. Police officers were injured. Dozens of protesters were arrested. The neighborhood would remain in a state of upheaval with a curfew in effect for three nights.

Now a year later, Sherman Park residents are singing the praises of Sherman Park. That became evident when we visited Sherman Perk, a popular gathering spot in the diverse neighborhood.

Deanne Robinson sipped an iced latte with her tired mutts at her feet as she shared her reflections about last August.

“At first I was kind of worried for Sherman Park,” she said. “Because of the incident of course and the feeling I was getting that we were getting encroached upon by a bad element. Now I realize what a strong community we have. There are good people living in this neighborhood.”

Bob Olin, the owner of Sherman Perk, believes some of the underlying variables that contributed to last summer’s violence remain unchanged. Though unfailingly cheerful and seemingly optimistic, Olin would like to see city hall take an active role in establishing a prepared Milwaukee workforce.

“We still have a significant population that’s undereducated and under or unemployed,” Olin said.

All of the Sherman Park residents we spoke with were clear about one point. They each maintained that the violence in Sherman Park was caused by people from outside the neighborhood. That is particularly frustrating for John Morgan who points to the many businesses damaged or destroyed in the melee.

“Some of those businesses employ African Americans here,” Morgan said. “So they lost their jobs, and these businesses had nothing to do with what happened between the police officer and that young gentleman.”

Morgan is proud of the neighborhood, its diversity and friendliness. He is optimistic the grim incidents of last summer are in the past for Milwaukee’s most seamlessly integrated neighborhood.

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