Milwaukee is again experiencing riots occurring in the central city. I vividly recall the last time major rioting occurred in Milwaukee in 1967. I was a young 1st Lieutenant commanding an artillery battery which was housed in Whitefish Bay, WI. We were called to active state duty by the Governor as riots developed and expanded in Milwaukee’s central city. A Catholic priest by the name of Father James Groppi figured heavily in this riot given his active work in the central city and his willingness to lead ‘peaceful’ marches.
Those marches did not stay peaceful. I was sent with my men, we had no female members at that time, to Washington Park where we established our camp and set up regular patrols to maintain our own security while we awaited the further orders to move into the city proper. We had just completed our annual summer encampment. We were issued our weapons and what amounted to two rounds of ammunition for each of the unit’s members. (Reminds me of Barney Fife having to throw his pistol and then pull it back only to throw it again.) We learned early-on that our military radios were not capable of working very well in the urban setting with tall buildings and a lot of interference, and all of my unit members were each given a few dimes so they could use the local pay telephones to communicate if they encountered problems.
The City of Milwaukee was effectively sealed off to everyone west of 35th street. Only key employees of key establishments were permitted to pass through our cordons to get to their places of employment, and we typically drive them to and from work in military vehicles. I recall driving workers from Adelman’s Laundry to and from work after forcing them out of their vehicles for their own safety.
We were given two tasks. First, we were to guard physical facilities and second, we were to accompany firefighters on calls to provide perimeter protection. One of those physical facilities was a sporting goods store on Richards Street near the then American Motors plant. That store reportedly had hundreds of firearms in inventory and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition. It had been designated a key facility for obvious reasons. That was one of the responsibilities my unit was assigned. The other was to be embedded with firefighters as they went out on call to provide protection from crowds and possible sniper fire since there had been reports of that activity in several areas. I doubt there was anything like that, but sounds and images in dark windows can be interpreted in many different ways when one is under stress.
We, police, deputies and guardsmen had very effectively shut the city down. I stood on Wisconsin Avenue, a main east-west thoroughfare, at about 2:00PM one Thursday and could not see another human figure anywhere from 13th street East. That is how effectively the city had been sealed.
What we are all watching today in Milwaukee is, so far, nowhere near the magnitude of the 1967 riots, but all that can change in what seems like an instant with but one igniting occurrence. How many different proposals have been reviewed, and implemented in some cases, to prevent riots from seeming the only effective tool remaining to the members of this community? How many politicians have come and gone, usually having added some money to their own pockets while having accomplished nothing much for their community in the process?
No one seems to have found the correct combination which will eliminate poverty in the inner city, which will energize the members of that community to do something other than steal and terrorize while using whatever is the drug of the day. The only thing that appears to occur is that police are blamed for the things this community does to itself with drugs and prostitution and low graduation rates. Gangbangers prowl once the sun goes down. Dealers sell their products. Women sell their bodies. Our Police department is restricted from chasing the young studs that love to steal fancy wheels and power their way through stop light controlled intersections paying no attention to the color of those signals.
There seems a reasonably apparent truth: whatever is being used tactically and strategically does not seem to be working. Our first major riot situation occurred some 49 years ago, and conditions are such that riots seem to be the solution of choice to the young toughs that roam the streets. Might it be that all the grand programs launched and touted as the one which will save the community have been nothing more than a worthless salve for what ails the community? If social programs provide enough that no one feels it necessary to actually work a normal job, are those good programs? We are destroying the black community in our inner-city by trying to appease that community in order for its citizens to vote for the right Mayor, etc.
This is not working, so maybe we just need to pour more money on the fire and see if that helps???