- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 16

Those who like to blame Milwaukee’s inner city residents for not solving their own problems should look at what happened early Sunday morning in the Sherman Park neighborhood. After the violence of Saturday night, neighbors of goodwill came out in large numbers to clean up the streets, hold prayer vigils and demand that the violence must stop. Their message: Throwing rocks, shooting guns and setting fires is no way to end injustice.

Faith leaders and community leaders who walked the streets talking to residents delivered a message that the entire region needs to hear.

Local authorities, especially Milwaukee police, responded with restraint, including an appropriate curfew, that has helped bring a measure of calm to the neighborhood. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Police Chief Edward Flynn and Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton deserve credit for how they reacted to the crisis.

As do the pastors from the nearby Parklawn Assembly of God Church and other congregations who Monday night led a gathering in a small green space near the BP station that was burned out in Saturday night’s uprising.

There is no excusing the mayhem that broke out Saturday night, which left burned-out businesses, injuries and widespread lawlessness, just as there is no excuse for the five unrelated homicides that occurred Friday night. Those responsible should be held accountable.

We urge more folks to join the pastors, the neighbors and local authorities who are working to foster calm, civil behavior. We urge the family and friends of Sylville K. Smith, who was killed Saturday by an officer who appears to have followed protocol, to channel their grief and anger into non-violent responses. That’s what the family of Dontre Hamilton did after their loved one, who was struggling with mental illness, was killed by an officer who did not follow police procedures and shot Hamilton to death in a scuffle in Red Arrow Park. Milwaukee police have made significant reforms and added training in conflict resolution in response to calls for justice by the Hamilton family and their supporters.

While there is no excuse for what happened, there is a reason. Adults and teens exploded with anger and frustration because something is fundamentally wrong; something that has been building for decades. Poverty, joblessness and lack of opportunity are among the problems, as Ald. Khalif Rainey and others have noted. But so are “unparented kids,” in the words of a local pastor, and insufficient engagement with hurting neighborhoods.

And race remains a huge issue.

The metropolitan area is one of the nation’s most segregated; the black male unemployment rate in the city is around 50 percent; Wisconsin incarcerates the most black men in the country, and in Milwaukee County, more than half of all black men in their 30s and 40s have served time.

Last year, as murder rates skyrocketed, we called for a summit that would include members of the community, business leaders and elected officials from all levels of government. We need to get people who can make a difference talking to one another about ways to meaningfully address the lack of jobs, education, skills and historic prejudice that are helping to hold down so many city residents. We need to examine best practices that have worked in other cities while also searching for uniquely local solutions.

No one answered our call last year. We can no longer wait for politicians such as Gov. Scott Walker and Barrett to set aside their ideological differences and work together to help Wisconsin’s poorest neighborhoods, but we can ask what, if anything, they’re going to do next. We can’t expect Milwaukee’s police to solve these deep-rooted economic and social problems, although they are the people who end up having to deal with them when they erupt in violence.

Perhaps we should be looking instead for leadership to the volunteers who showed up with shovels and garbage bags on Sunday morning, and to the pastors who have been leading nighttime prayer vigils.

Please send us your ideas for the next steps our community should take to address our most pressing problems. We will aim to keep the conversation going as, with hope, we move forward.


Wisconsin State Journal, Aug. 17

Cop camera provides clarity to controversy

Imagine if the Milwaukee police officer who shot and killed 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith last weekend hadn’t been wearing a body camera.

Without images from the officer’s camera, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wouldn’t be able to tell his community, as he did Sunday, that “without question” Smith had a gun in his hand.

Without the video evidence, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn wouldn’t be able to describe in convincing detail how Smith, after fleeing from a traffic stop, turned toward the officer and started to raise his gun.

The video hasn’t been made public yet. The state Justice Department plans to release it after the agency completes an independent investigation of the officer-involved shooting.

Barrett and Gov. Scott Walker have urged release of the video soon to help calm the city in the wake of Saturday’s shooting on Milwaukee’s north side. The shooting led to angry crowds burning several buildings and throwing bricks at officers over the weekend, though Monday night was relatively peaceful.

Already, the very existence of the video has helped to ease suspicion by providing some clarity - more of which is to come once people get to see it. That’s a huge advantage for the city and its citizens over having to rely on potentially conflicting accounts of what police and any witnesses might say.

Madison and other cities that have resisted police cameras should take note: Nothing provides greater transparency in the wake of controversial police actions than video of what happened, be it good or bad for law enforcement.

That’s why Barrett wisely pushed to equip the city’s patrol officers with cameras. Police and the public behave better when they know their encounters are being recorded.

Uniform cameras “significantly reduce” officer use of force as well as complaints against police, according to President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The Milwaukee officer who fatally shot Smith in the chest and arm hasn’t been identified yet. Chief Flynn has said the officer is black, as was Smith. That has helped defuse racial tension.

Barrett noted that Smith had more bullets in his gun than the officer had in his. Smith had a criminal record. The officer will eventually be identified, with his job performance reviewed.

The more information the public gets about the shooting, the better it can understand and accept what occurred - or push for change.

Madison and other cities slow to adopt cop cameras should rethink their opposition. Because of smartphones, most civilians carry cameras in public. Police officers should be equipped with similar technology to document their difficult work.


The Journal Times of Racine, Aug. 17

Step up efforts to block synthetic opioid sales

Death at $40 a gram and it’s available on the internet with a few keystrokes and a credit card. Legally.

That’s the disturbing news here in Racine County and across the country over the “new” influx of a synthetic opioid called U-47700 that already is sending people to the morgue in several states with overdoses.

That includes the deaths of two men here in Racine County this summer, according to Racine County Medical Examiner Michael Payne, who put the drug’s effects simply enough: “U-47700 will kill you. It’s something to be considered at this point to be a health hazard to people who elect to try this or use this.”

That’s echoed by Michael Bell, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Milwaukee assistant special agent in charge, who told a Journal Times reporter, “Experimenting with them (synthetic opioids) is like playing Russian roulette. You don’t know what you are getting and the first time could be the last.”

The drug, which is reportedly eight times more potent than morphine, has caused an estimated 50 overdose deaths in the United States in recent months and has states scrambling to add it to their controlled substances list.

Three states - Ohio, Wyoming and Georgia - have already done so and Wisconsin’s Controlled Substances Board is slated to take up possible “scheduling” of U-47700, but not until its meeting on Sept. 20.

That seems to us to be a bit slow on the response, but it points out the difficulties at both the state and federal levels in dealing with synthetic drugs that are continually being tweaked and having their formulas changed just slightly from drugs that are on the controlled substance list and banned from being sold or possessed.

The U in the name U-47700 stands for Upjohn pharmaceuticals which developed the drug back in the 1970s in a search for a pain-killer that was less addictive and didn’t affect the respiratory system as much.

According to news reports, it was one of many such drugs developed and patented by the since-acquired pharmaceutical company, but not necessarily put into production.

Today chemical companies - mainly in China - are searching through patent records and scientific literature from that time to find those formulas and how to produce them and then marketing the drug online.

When a “new” synthetic drug is banned, those chemical companies move on to market a new one, which always leaves law enforcement and public health agencies operating from behind.

That is not to say the government of China has not cooperated with the U.S. - according to an Associated Press report China banned 116 new psychoactive substances last year at the urging of the United States.

That’s a porous system that needs to be addressed by Congress at the federal level to better control these death-dealing drugs that are too easily marketed online.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, should expedite its system of scheduling and banning once-off drugs before the body count continues to rise.

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