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5 arrested protesting murder by Milwaukee police

By Jacob Flom

March against police killing in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee, WI – Community members rallied in memory of Derek Williams, who was killed in the custody of the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) on July 6, 2011, two years ago to the day. Militant protests against MPD brutality and corruption have been happening regularly for over a year, and protesters routinely take over major streets for hours on end. This time however, the police response was far more aggressive, resulting in a heated confrontation on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“They're sending more Black people to jail in this zip code, 53206, than any other zip code in the country. One day we're gonna shut this Fifth district police station down and turn it into a holocaust museum,” said rally organizer Brian Verdin, over a chorus of honks from passing cars.

In response to mass protests calling for “Justice for Derek Williams,” both a state and federal inquest was won and resulted in a jury recommending charges against three white police officers for the death of Williams, who was Black, in the back of an MPD squad car. The state jury found the police guilty of disobeying MPD policy for treatment of a detainee, which allowed Williams to suffocate in the squad car, and recommended charges against all three officers. But judges in both cases disregarded the jury's opinion and allowed all three police to return to duty with back pay, outraging the community.

Outside the Fifth District Police Station, Derek Williams’ aunt aimed her megaphone at dozens of police and said, “I want everyone to know I'm not stopping at the fed's decision. I told Chief Flynn I’m not stopping! The tears we shed were real, and the pain we felt watching the autopsy over and over was real. I could see where they peeled back his skin and there were marks on his back from kneeling on him and breaking his neck. And they can’t charge these officers for killing my nephew!”

After confronting the police department, the rally then marched towards the site where Williams was killed several blocks away, immediately taking the street. Paddy wagons swarmed the group a few blocks later, first attempting to arrest the Black women leading the march. Protesters de-arrested several people in the scuffle that followed, and baton-wielding police reinforcements arrived and began to violently push protesters back as they filmed five protest leaders get arrested, including a relative of Derek Williams.

The protests continued outside the Fifth District Station until the arrested were released, where one protester remarked, “Five protesters were arrested for violations such as ‘standing in roadway,’ yet not a single police officer has been held responsible for breaking the neck of Derek Williams and refusing to help him while he begged for help for over ten minutes, handcuffed and suffocating in the back of an MPD squad car.”

As the final arrested protester was released, the protest continued undeterred to the site of the Derek Williams memorial, once again taking the streets in defiance. At the site of the memorial, community members came out to join a prayer circle. Activists and family members spoke, vowing to continue the struggle until justice is done.

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