Milwaukee Plays the Race Card in Shooting of Sylville Smith

August 18, 2016

Something odd is happening in Milwaukee. A 23-year-old African-American man was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday. But this time the narrative is slightly different. The officer is also African-American. Rather then release the videotape of the shooting Milwaukee’s top brass is playing the race card.

Milwaukee officials have reiterated time and time again that the officer involved in the shooting is African-American. This statement is somehow supposed to assuage the family, activists and those of us who have been on the frontlines fighting for criminal justice reform. It doesn’t. What the tone-deaf officials fail to recognize is that the issue is not whether the officer was black, it’s about the blue.

Overly aggressive cops, poorly trained officers and those in law enforcement that use the color of authority to harass and violate the constitutional rights of citizens can be found in police departments across this country and they can be people of color. The fight for criminal justice reform has never been focused solely on white police officers. It’s always been about rooting out any officer, irrespective of race, who abuses his or her powers.

No doubt the focus in high-profile shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and Laquan McDonnell in Chicago involved white officers. But there have been a fair number of highly questionable police shootings involving Black and Latino officers–several occurring in Los Angeles during the last 12 months.

Rogue cops, whether they are African-American, Latino and Asian, don’t get a pass. We don’t expect or demand any less from them than we do of white officers. Treating communities and citizens with respect and taking seriously the oath to protect and serve apply across the board. Engaging in constitutional policing and avoiding conduct that is harassing and abusive should be the first order of business for all sworn officers.

Milwaukee’s chief of police and mayor should spend less time focusing on the fact that the officer involved in the shooting is African-American and more time on providing the public with credible information that supports it’s narrative. Playing the race card won’t increase the public’s trust in law enforcement, releasing   the videotape, just might.


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