Despite Heat, Protests Gain Momentum in Fifth Day

“I’m out here to try to be a voice for them,” one member of Tuesday’s diverse protest group says.

Thousands of protesters marched more than six miles in oppressive heat through the streets of Milwaukee on Tuesday afternoon, showing no signs of fatigue in the fifth day of demonstrations over racial injustice and police brutality.

Protesters gathered in Humboldt Park in Bay View early in the afternoon and made their way Downtown over the course of nearly three hours, with periodic rest breaks as volunteers handed out bottles of water and ice packs. Some onlookers sprayed the procession with water from hoses in support.

Extended stops took place in front of Milwaukee City Hall and the District 1 Police Station, headquarters of the Milwaukee Police Department.

A few in the massive crowd stood face-to-face with police in riot gear who formed a protective line around the building at the corner of West State and North James Lovell streets. Some screamed profanities at officers while others exchanged fist bumps as a second line of police personnel looked down over the gathering from a perch in MacArthur Square.

Protesters yelled “Arrest the police,” as dozens of cops kept a watchful eye.

An officer takes a knee with a protester after chants of “Kneel with us” on Tuesday, June 2, outside the Downtown police headquarters. Eventually, five officers knelt. Photo by Rich Rovito

After repeated chants of “Kneel with us,” a white officer dropped to one knee next to a young African American woman who held a “Black Lives Matters” sign.” Eventually, five officers knelt, drawing some applause from onlookers, while others in the crowd taunted officers who remained standing.  

Any goodwill didn’t last long, though, as officers Downtown used tear gas and other crowd control weapons against protesters later in the evening, according to reports.

The march began in Humboldt Park in Bay View as temperatures climbed above 90 degrees under a cloudless sky. Organizers billed the march as a “Justice for George Floyd Peaceful Protest.” Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 while being taken into custody. The events leading up to Floyd’s death were captured on video, causing worldwide outrage.

The sea of predominantly white marchers made their way out of Humboldt Park and headed east on Oklahoma Avenue, where Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joined them briefly. “I think people are rightfully upset,” Barrett said. “They are angry. I’m angry. We have to be a society where everyone is treated with respect.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett walks with protesters Oklahoma Avenue in Bay View on Tuesday, June 2. Photo by Rich Rovito

Barrett praised those who have organized and participated in demonstrations during daylight hours.

“We’ve seen an incredible display of patriotism, in a way, of what we want our country to be,” he said. “That’s not what we see at night when the laws are being broken. This is what we want our country to be. This is people demanding change.”

Bay View resident Bryce Stevenson, 31, said he joined the march to “support equality for people of color.”

“I belong to the Red Cliff Chippewa in Lake Superior. That’s my tribe,” Stevenson said. “My whole family is this cluster of people of color. I’m out here to try to be a voice for them.”

The massive crowd emboldened Stevenson. “I’m really glad to see this neighborhood come together and be one with each other,” he said.

Stevenson doesn’t expect to the protests to end any time soon. “If you look around you can tell that people aren’t tired yet,” he said. “They are going to keep going until something gets done, no matter what is.”

Protesters pause their march to take a knee in Walker’s Point on Tuesday, June 2. Photo by Rich Rovito

Meaghan Heinrich walked with her 6-year-old daughter, Margie. “We live in this neighborhood,” Heinrich said. “I want my children to understand what a peaceful protest looks like and to know that they’re on the right side of history and doing the right thing and standing up for what we all believe in.”

Heinrich, who is white, sees no signs of fatigue in the protest movement. “I think the momentum is increasing the more this happens,” she said. “I see the exact opposite of fatigue. I’m not sure I would have been out here five days ago. I am now because after seeing the snowball effect, I feel the need to be a part of it.”

Charles Kuel, an African American who lives in Bay View, said the massive crowd for Tuesday’s march is proof that people who want change aren’t about to fade away.

“I feel like this is going to go on for a while,” Kuel said.

The march marked the first protest for Donald Watts, an African American who lives on Milwaukee’s North Side.

A protester carries a sign on Water Street on Tuesday, June 2. Photo by Adam Rogan

“I’m here to make my voice heard,” Watts said. “Everything needs to change as long as it’s toward equality and equal justice for everyone, across the board.”

Watts’ 16-year-old son, Donovan, marched alongside. “Things need to change, especially with cops and the training that they go through,” Donovan Watts said. “There’s no need for all of the aggression against an unarmed and nonresisting man.”

After another day of peaceful demonstrations, the situation deteriorated again later in the day. First, police used tear gas to break up a group of protesters marching north on I-794 toward the Hoan Bridge.

Then, around 8:30 p.m., the Milwaukee Police Department posted on Twitter that it had ordered protesters that had gathered at North Sixth Street and West McKinley Avenue to disperse “due to unlawful assembly after throwing rocks and glass at our officers.” Protesters lifted their shirts to show news photographers bruised welts where they were hit with rubber bullets.

MPD also said a suspect with a gun who was in the crowd had been taken into custody and that tear gas had been used to disperse protesters. A short time later, MPD posted that Molotov cocktails had been lobbed at officers as police continued to order protesters to disperse.  

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.