The country continues to reel after devastating shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas. Milwaukee is no stranger to violence.
Sunday, the first service was about to begin at All Peoples Church at 2nd and Clarke.
A cool hush fills the wood-beamed interior. Light spills in through massive stained glass windows. But a palpable sense of sadness hangs in the air.
Two days earlier Vicar Christine Roe provided support at the funeral of Jay L. Anderson, Jr. - the 25 year old recently killed by Wauwatosa police.
Then minutes before today’s service, Roe learned the stepfather of a teenager active at All Peoples was shot and killed Saturday night.
The racially-blended congregation rallies with prayers of support. Andrea Smith expresses hers through song.
Smith, a mother and grandmother, says she fears for the safety of her two grown sons.
“My 25 year old has a gun and a conceal carry permit and the last guy that got shot – and you saw the video on TV – I said that could have been my son and something went right through me,” Smith said.
Smith says she tries not to be out at night, yet doesn’t feel safe inside her home either.
“I think people; they need to hear the word of God. We need to start with our politicians. They need to be accountable to help us. We need more resources for the younger generation. The older people, they need Jesus, that’s all I can say about them. And police officers need more training. Why shoot someone when you can tase them. If you can’t see a gun, don’t shoot,” Smith said.
David Flowers lives in the city and says he often sees police drive through his neighborhood with their windows shut tight.
“It’s almost as though they were not part of our community. I think that’s a big part of what’s going on. We’ve separated the police into their own institution apart from the community,” Flowers said.
Yet Flowers doesn’t think answers will come easily.
“There’s a new app out I just heard about that you can call a number and contact your friends and neighbors and family rather than calling the police. People are afraid to call the police. I don’t know when that happened, but we need to rethink what it means to be safe in our neighborhoods. When we start to fear the people who are supposed to keep us safe, something has gone very wrong,” Flowers said.
Carolyn Jewett holds tight to what she calls the “old school” lessons her grandmother shared.
“My grandmother told us about police, struggle of being African Americans. They said put money to the side, to be prepared when something happens. They also told us if you are on the streets and do something on the street – either go to jail or die. Criminal activity was not a goal for my family,” Jewett said.
Jewett says she passed along those lessons of working hard and not giving up onto her children but laments that she cannot ensure their safety.
“I think it’s complicated because there’s such violence in our community that when the police stop us, that if you get stopped, you are a criminal. So, if you’re black and you’re young and you’re male, you’re a criminal. I pray every day that can be stopped. That they don’t look at all of us – especially our young men – as criminals. And we don’t look at all the police as racist and wanting to kill us. One day I just pray that it doesn’t have to be like that,” Jewett said.
Three years ago neighbor Sabrina Davis says All Peoples knocked on her door and she jumped in with gusto.
“I am strong because of the people around me here. I have been through a lot, I have witnessed a lot in my neighborhood. So, I think it’s all I can do. If you’re not strong, your whole community goes down. If you are weak the whole community goes down. If you are weak, you are showing it is OK. You can’t do that,” Davis said.
The 18-year-old is about to begin her senior year in high school - and is quick to offer both a diagnosis and treatment for what’s ailing Milwaukee.
“Honestly, it’s from people not getting enough love. When people don’t experience the love they need, there are many things that go wrong. …If we bring more love into the community and we stick by each other, we will conquer this. We will conquer this senseless killing, we will conquer death and conquer our ultimate goal which is to heal the hood,” Davis said.
Davis’ first action step: be a part of your community, get to know people.