“The police are taking this to a whole new level of intimidation. That is the only reason to bang on someone’s front door at 1:00 in the morning,” said Dave over the phone.”I am modest, and have no impression that people are out to get me, but this is ridiculous!”
Dave is a fairly quiet guy, a combination of reserved and intense. He is a committed activist, and Wisconsin coordinator with SEIU Local 1. Last week, he was part of a march onto a Milwaukee freeway onramp. This week, the police seem to be looking to bring him in for questioning. Their methods and timing are deeply troubling. This morning, I saw his post on Facebook:
I didn't appreciate the Milwaukee Police Dept banging on my door and ringing the doorbell at 1:00am this morning, waking up me, my wife and our 8 month old daughter. Part of me is amused/flattered that they must think I was one of the leaders of the "freeway protest" the other part of me is annoyed at the heavy-handed and unnecessary intrusion. They are trying to intimidate us by coming for us, literally, in the middle of the night. I will not be intimidated by MPD scare tactics!
I asked Dave to describe what happened:
“I heard a bang, bang, bang, loud on the door. ‘That can’t be good,’ I thought to myself, since it was in the middle of the night. I got up, but didn’t answer the door. I then saw bright flashlight shine through my front window, all into my living room. That’s when I knew it was the police. I didn’t answer the door, but started texting friends who might be able to help with advice and lawyers. I didn’t know what the police were intending to do to me.”
I asked Dave why the MPD seemed to be targeting him:
“It is weird, since I had nothing to do with the organizing of the freeway event. I went to Red Arrow Park that day and knew there would be a march, but didn’t know what was going to happen. I don’t know for sure, but figure that they might be targeting me, and a couple of other activists, because of previous civil disobedience arrests. I’ve had a couple, related to labor issues. I think the police are hoping someone will get scared and give them information. I know of another activist, Khalil, who has also been visited at home…”
I asked Dave to respond to people who might say "you broke the law and you get what you deserve:"
“You know, I was there at the onramp, and got arrested. I received two citations, and spent the night in jail. It was a fairly rough time. But there is a process, and I will go to court and have my say. I accept that. But to have the police come to my house at 1:00 in the morning is nothing but intimidation. I don’t know why I am a target other than my work with the union. I posted this on Facebook this morning because I want people to know about this. This is happening here in Milwaukee. I want people to know they are looking for me, and that they might also be doing this to others.”
I then called Khalil, a very visible and vocal
street activist within the African American community.
He recounted recent histories of killings in Milwaukee, from Derek Williams to Dontre Hamilton at the hands of police, to Corey Stingley and Darius Simmons at the hands of vigilantes. Consistent to all the tragic tales is the lack of charges against police or vigilantes who killed young black men, as if their lives don't really matter. Khalil has been active in every one of these cases, and believes that he is now being targeted because of his fight to hold the police accountable. In fact, he is so visible that Police Chief Flynn referred to him, by name, in a press event, calling him an “opportunist and agitator.”
I asked him to describe any recent encounters with MPD.
“We called for a rally in the hood last week, on December 26th. At the end of the rally, the Assistant Chief wanted to talk to me. There was too much going on, and I left before meeting with him. They claimed there was disorderly conduct at the rally, but it was the community that blocked traffic and honked horns, and it was entirely peaceful the whole time. We didn’t do anything unusual that we haven’t done for three years. I think it is pure BS. They are after me, but why? Do they want to arrest me? Later that evening, they sent seven squad cars over to my mama’s house, telling her they were looking for me. They told her that I “was not under arrest” but was wanted for “questioning about protesting.” My mom didn’t know where I was at the time.
We planned a follow up rally for the very next day, but we heard the police were lining up at the perimeter to knock us all off, so we called it off and turned it into a community meeting. They ended up arresting a journalist, which was pretty weird.
Then they went to my sister’s house with Fugitive Apprehension Unit and told her they wanted to see me. That was pretty crazy. Normally this unit only deals with high profile and serious criminal cases, but they were told to drop everything and come to get me. Why is there such an urge to come get me? My lawyer called in to the station to see what was up: no crime, no charges, but a desire to bring in and book me…. they said that no charges were issued, just the desire for charges.
Then, on Monday (yesterday) we had agreed to turn ourselves in. Instead we had a press conference that brought prominent leaders and legislators to speak on our behalf, about our rights to protest, and the problems with police violence. Thirty minutes before we were supposed to go down to the station, they called my attorney and said we didn’t have to turn ourselves in because they were still “investigating why they wanted us.” They told my attorney that they are currently looking through video footage to see if they can charge with me disorderly conduct. That's where it stands now. I still don't know why I am being targeted.”
I asked Khalil to describe what was next for him. He went on to say that his focus has been to bring justice to the inner city and develop safe zones, community policing, community corrections and what they are calling a program of “hood ambassadors,” which would help nurture community leaders who focus on positive cultural and economic change. Khalil and other activists are currently in conversation with the Mayor’s office, MPD and the DA to develop these safe zones in targeted neighborhoods.
It seems to me a very complex walk to walk, that of building community with the very forces that condone midnight visits to question presumed leaders of peaceful demonstrations, hard knocks on doors, flashlights peering into private spaces. It is hard to sit across a table and talk community policing policies with those setting dragnets with special tactical units for the very people trying to engage meaningful change.
Activists are the people who care enough about justice that they will put their bodies on the line. This has always been true, and history is never over.