Regional
1:00 am
Tue May 13, 2014

Milwaukee Leaders Call for 'Ceasefire' Ahead of Surge in Summer Violence

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (at podium) and other leaders kick off "Ceasefire Week," an effort to get illegal guns off the streets.
Credit Erin Toner

Milwaukee leaders kick off "Ceasefire Week," an effort to get would-be criminals to put down their guns.

On a warm Monday morning, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett stood in front of Tabernacle Community Baptist Church and said he wanted to make sure the approaching summer is safe.

“You can see a house right over there. I want a city where a grandma can sit on that front porch and watch her grandkids play in the front yard this summer. And I want it on Medford, I want it on 22nd Street, I want it on 25th Street, I want it on every single street of this city,” Barrett says.

Violent crime typically surges here in the summer months, though it’s sneaking up a bit earlier this year. This past Sunday alone, two men were shot and killed in separate incidents. In one case, the shooter drew his gun after an argument at a bar.

Police Chief Ed Flynn calls it mindless violence.

“When you read the homicide reports and you see what the impetus for the deadly violence was…somebody’s girlfriend’s having a Facebook fight with somebody else’s girlfriend, and somebody gets murdered? Somebody gets punched in the nose, they go to their car and get a gun and murder somebody. Somebody gives somebody a dirty look – we call it ‘mean mugging’ – and somebody gets shot. It’s crazy,” Flynn says.

Flynn says over the past seven years, 729 people were murdered in Milwaukee, and nearly 4,000 others were shot, but survived. He says almost all of the victims and suspects were black males – average age, 24.

The chief says his department continually adjusts its strategies to fight the violence, including using technology to identify potential trouble spots and deploy officers. But Flynn says police can only do so much. He wants the community to send a strong message.

“We need grownups, we need adults, we need a community that says, no! You’re a punk if you need a gun to win a fight. You’re a jerk if you shoot somebody and wreck your life and wreck their life. No, we don’t respect you. You don’t deserve a monument of wet teddy bears and empty beer bottles. No!” Flynn says.

At a gun buyback event Saturday, people who turn in weapons will receive bank cards.
Credit Erin Toner

In an effort to get weapons off the streets, the city and the Milwaukee Clergy Coalition will host a gun buyback on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Tabernacle Community Baptist Church, 2500 W. Medford Ave.

John McVicker is pastor at Christ the King Baptist Church.

“We all are quite aware that this gun buyback campaign is not a panacea, it is not a cure-all for the problems plaguing our inner-city neighborhoods," McVicker says. "However, we do believe that it is a critical piece of a larger strategy to reclaim our neighborhoods and remove the infamous designation recently assigned to Milwaukee as being the 10th most dangerous city in America to live.”

McVicker says organizers have raised $53,000 to give bank cards to people to turn in weapons – $50 cards for a shotgun or rifle, $100 for a handgun and $200 for the return of an assault rifle.

“Turn in firearms for cash, no questions asked,” McVicker says.

A reporter asked Police Chief Ed Flynn if he believes those in the city who possess illegal guns, would actually surrender them.

“Probably not. Maybe when their back is turned, a family member will. That would be good,” Flynn says.

Milwaukee leaders say beyond the human toll of gun violence, it’s ravaging some neighborhoods’ economic prospects, driving businesses away and many jobs that could keep young people off the streets.

Ceasefire week concludes Sunday, when clergy will preach a common message of peace and non-violence.