It has been six months since a Milwaukee police officer shot and killed an armed suspect in the Sherman Park neighborhood, sparking two nights of unrest. Protesters destroyed or damaged several businesses in the area of Sherman and Burleigh, particularly the gas station located at the foot of the park. WUWM visited the epicenter of the unrest to ask neighbors how things are going, a half-year later.
You can still see the fire damage from last summer at what was a BP gas station and convenience store. A chain link fence surrounds the property, while snippets of yellow police tape lie on the ground. Melted gas pumps remain standing, while glass is strewn across the parking lot.
Sherry Smith is waiting for the bus at the corner of Sherman and Burleigh. She lives nearby and says neighbors will never forget the night of August 13. “A lot of people are still angry about the fact that everything resulted in violence and destroying other people’s properties and things and the outcome is, we’re all affected by it now,” she says.
Smith says the destruction of the BP meant a big loss for the neighborhood.
David Redd says he used to buy sandwiches and snacks at the place. “Daily, we need that. We want it back though, it was so convenient in the inner city,” he says.
Redd says the BP was the closest thing to a grocery store in the neighborhood. Now, he says he has to walk to stores farther away to cobble together a meal. He’s surprised the owners haven’t yet rebuilt the BP; bulldozers have only partially leveled the area.
But, Barbara Randolph says it takes time to pick up the pieces. “It’s going to take a while for a lot, to rebuild. The people, the property, the buildings. It’s going to take a lot but people need to work together,” she says.
Randolph says she’s become more aware of issues affecting the neighborhood since the unrest took place and has been talking more with neighbors about how to improve things.
Lamar Campbell says he’s been helping mentor young people in Sherman Park and in surrounding neighborhoods. “I volunteer at the Red Cross and I volunteer for the youth at McGovern Park for them to have the things that they need, as far as the possibility of a skating rink. There are a lot of necessities for them to get through life, whatever it is,” Campbell says.
A couple other businesses that protesters torched or ransacked have reopened. Ald. Khalif Rainey says he’s been talking with the owner of the BP and expects him to begin rebuilding this spring. Yet Rainey says, first, city leaders will hold town hall meetings, so both the owner and neighbors can talk about working better together.
Neighbor Sherry Smith says some other wounds are also still healing, including the death of Sylville Smith, the 23-year-old whose death sparked the unrest. “It was like wow, another funeral, another loss,” Smith says.
This week, WUWM will talk with more residents of the Sherman Park neighborhood.