MILWAUKEE — As peaceful demonstrations took place across Milwaukee Saturday, an important conversation was happening inside.
Together, retired law enforcement, community leaders and concerned residents gathered at a local church on Milwaukee’s north side to talk openly and honestly about racism and police brutality.
All in attendance weren’t holding back. They came together to brainstorm ways they can change the culture, plaguing Milwaukee and the country, a culture where to this day police brutality happens and where people are judged by the color of their skin or background.
They admit part of the problem comes down to understanding one another and not grouping good guys with bad guys, whether you’re a cop or a person walking down the street.
Former Milwaukee police detective, Ricky Burems explained that this concept isn’t so simple.
“You start off good, you become assimilated in that culture and then the lines get blurred," Burems said.
Retired Milwaukee Assistant Police Chief Ray Banks also described his experience.
“When you go out there, people already have preconceived notions about the police,” Banks said. “We in this fight with you, that’s why we’re here right now.”
On top of this, he and others including Burems faced a whole other challenge in the department.
“The hardest job in this city is being an African American police officer because you’re dealing with it internally and you’re dealing with it externally, and you’re trying to keep your identity, and you want to do what’s right, but you also want to recognize the injustices that are happening,” Banks said.
He said this makes it that much harder to speak out. However, Banks also acknowledged that he and his other retired colleagues in attendance took that risk more than once.
“This man here and that man over there they spoke out on issues and got sent to the south side to get silenced,” Banks said.
For several hours people on both sides of the argument shared their thoughts and ideas to improve police-community relations.
“People will say something to you and try to provoke you to do something you have to be able to have restraint,” retired Milwaukee police sergeant and organizer of the meeting, Pamela Holmes said.
“What happened to the humanity behind the badge?” President of Kingdom Men Fellowship John Hudson said. “I’d like to see policing that engages with the community more than just coming in to bust down doors. We want to see policing that gets to know your name.”
“When you see racism and you see those types of things are you speaking up? Are you saying something about it?” Ralph Sirmons, a concerned community member said.
“One of our biggest challenges is, is that we are comfortable and scared to be uncomfortable,” Nazir Al-Mujaahid of the Ma’Ruf Center for Youth Innovation said.
Now they want to keep the conversation going, but also turn it into action, with the hope that everyone is accounted for.
“We need people to understand that all anybody wants whether you’re black, white, blue or purple is to be treated with dignity and respect,” Banks said. “We’re all in this fight together.”