Regional
8:25 am
Thu September 19, 2013

South Side Community Spirit Endures, Despite Violence

Neighbors release balloons at a recent peace rally to honor violent crime victims.
Community leaders are concerned about an increase in violence on Milwaukee's south side. However, officials say communication is improving between residents and police and that is having a positive impact.

Many residents in some of Milwaukee's oldest neighborhoods are staying put, hoping a growing spirit of police and community relations will help restore order.

People living in some of Milwaukee’s oldest neighborhoods have become more vigilant due to a spike in violent crime.

This summer, we heard that sentiment among north side residents living through a rash of gun violence.

We found similar attitudes on Milwaukee’s south side.

It’s suffered about two-dozen homicides during the past year and an increase in assaults.

A hush overtakes a “walk for peace.”

About 30 people move toward a decorated tree on South 9th near Lincoln.

The teddy bears and ribbons mark the place where a teenager crashed his car last month, after a bullet struck him.

The marchers form a circle around Pastor Michael Harden.

“If you could bow with me. I pray for this young man who lost his life and I pray for many others who lost their lives oh God, in violence, really for nothing,” the minister said.

The young man was 18-year-old Xavier Melgoza.

He was following men who had robbed a liquor store, when they turned and fired shots at him.

Marcher Alice Misko slides her rosary beads into a pocket while telling me her family moved here in 1982. She says the neighborhood has experienced bad times and good times. But now that her husband’s gone and her children have moved away, it might be time to leave..

“I feel comfortable yet, I feel safe in my home. I actually walk the streets. I know I shouldn’t by myself, but I go at a time when it is safe. And, if I can’t walk the streets, then I really shouldn’t be living in the neighborhood,” Misko says.

Ald. Bob Donovan worries that more long-time residents will leave, if illicit behavior continues. He sometimes visits places where violence has occurred.

“Horrendous situations. (I) was at, about two weeks ago, a triple shooting – three kids playing basketball. That kind of activity, obviously, concerns me greatly,” Donovan says.

Donovan attributes some of the violence to a huge increase in drug activity. He says crime can also flourish when too few cops are on the beat.

“In order for any neighborhood that is challenged to become more stabilized, we need a more consistent police presence to maintain a particular level of order,” Donovan says.

According to Police Capt. Alfonso Morales, officers are highly visible on Milwaukee’s south side, including on bicycles. He says the department alters patrols, based on where it hears of problems.

Neighboring Alderman Jose Perez says more residents are communicating that information to police.

“There have been problems in the past and I think we’re overcoming that because we are pushing, prodding, asking, agitating people about calling the police and it happens pretty often. People come to me and say, ‘Look we had an incident,’ my first question is ‘Did you call the police?’ And, like ‘No.’ Without calls and dots on a map we’re not getting resources to where we need them,” Perez says.

Perez says police-community relations are helping stabilize the area. He says some residents are indeed leaving, but not because of crime.

“I think traditionally our neighborhoods’ have been affordable. So, because of that, certain sections of our neighborhood are a little transitional. Where it’s affordable, people have other opportunities economically, and then maybe move a little further west and south, and those are the trends of the Latino community, but a lot of them get their start in the 12th District,” Perez says.

Walker Square is a playground and green space near 9th and Washington on Milwaukee's south side.

One of the neighborhood’s newest homeowners is Samantha Wilson.

“We chose this neighborhood because it was easy to get a big house for a low price, and we have four kids. So, that was part of it,” Wilson says.

Samantha Wilson says the other part was she wanted to live close to where she grew up, so she and her husband chose a house near Walker Square Park.

Wilson says she’s aware of crime nearby but nothing serious.

“I don’t feel safe enough to leave things out in the yard, and we’ve had bikes stolen already just in the short time we’ve lived here, but I don’t feel like my kids can’t go outside to play,” Wilson says.

She says she and her husband have already joined a neighborhood association and would not hesitate recommending the neighborhood to friends.