On Wednesday I participated in the sixth day of protests in Milwaukee against police brutality. Though I was there to protest, I was also asked by a MilMag editor to document my experience. I kept a journal throughout the day of moments that stood out as important to or characteristic of the demonstration.
2:40 p.m.: My sister, Elena, and I arrive at Gordon Park in Riverwest about 20 minutes before the march’s scheduled start. We’re asked for directions by a car of young protesters. Other protesters ask us to help them unload their supplies. More and more people arrive carrying cases of water bottles, snacks and medical supplies.
2:55: A man in a blue suit accepts a handmade mask from another protester.
2:59: A masked woman arrives with wagon of supplies and a sign reading “First Aid Station.”
3:08: A woman walks through the crowd, handing out turkey sandwiches in brown paper bags. “Gotta keep your energy up,” she says.
3:15: The group is called into a circle to listen to opening remarks.
Organizer Dynasty Caesar reads off a list of rules for the protest, including that we are not to instigate anything with the police. “We’re not looting and we’re not rioting, so we don’t have to worry about that, because we know that we’re peaceful,” she says.
Activist Frank Nitty, who earlier in the day was released after his arrest Tuesday evening on I-794, addresses the protesters and the media. “I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong,” he says. “I’m trying to peacefully prove a point. Can someone please tell me what am I doing wrong where you have to throw tear gas at these people because they want to stand with me?”
Nate Hamilton, brother of Dontre Hamilton, who was killed by a Milwaukee police officer in Red Arrow Park in 2014, speaks to the importance of the antiracism movement. “Justice is bigger than one police officer and one person. It’s an American problem,” he says.
4:06: The march sets out from Gordon Park. Our chants include “No justice, no peace!”; “Say his name! Which one?”; “Walk with us! Walk with us!” and “Black lives matter!”
4:14: I notice a black pickup cruising alongside the protest with “First Aid” written on the side in red electrical tape. Two volunteers sit in the bed of the truck, handing out water, snacks and medical supplies to whoever needs them.
4:20: When the organizers ask for volunteers to speak, one woman relays the news that all four officers involved in the murder of George Floyd have been arrested and charged. The crowd roars in response.
Another man voices his platform into the megaphone. “It’s not black versus white, it’s everyone versus racists,” he says.
4:27: A shirtless man encounters the protest while jogging near Riverside Park. After our chants of “Walk with us!”, he joins the crowd, garnering cheers. He stays with the march for several hours.
4:29: A woman hands out essentials like sunscreen and water from the trunk of a car, creeping along in the middle of the marchers.
4:39: We have blocked the intersection North and Oakland Avenues, but the crowd parts to let two ambulances pass through. We cheer for the first responders, and they wave back at us.
5:09: A red car attempts to drive through the crowd, nearly hitting several people. “Be careful!” one woman shouts.
5:55: A man hands out granola bars from what looks like a skateboard with a single giant wheel. “What do you call that thing you’re riding?” I ask. “It’s called a onewheel!” he says, continuing to roll through the crowd. “There’s four bars left!”
6:10: On Sixth Street, a man offers pizza to the hungry protesters, who happily grab slices from the box as he holds it open.
6:12: At the intersection of Sixth Street and Wisconsin Avenue, our protest meets another protest that had started at Humboldt Park. We move forward as a single group from there. I’m struck by just how huge our number seems to be.
6:31: A man atop a car plays holds a trumpet as the crowd lets his vehicle pass through. “Play something!” someone shouts. The man busts out a jazz riff, and the crowd goes wild.
6:40: We are warned that a group believed to be affiliated with the alt-right are counter-protesting. “Let’s get it! We’re going Downtown!” an organizer yells to the crowd.
6:56: An army-green helicopter starts circling high above the crowd, which put Elena and me on edge.
7:28: A line of motorcycles passes through the crowd as we march past the War Memorial on the lakefront. They rev their engines as loud as they can.
7:45: The crowd is told to circle the footbridge across Lincoln Memorial Drive into Veterans park, where the organizers tell us that the alt-right group is just north of us. For our own safety, they will be escorting a group of us back to a safe dispersal point, but others are continuing on to face the counter-protesters. My sister and I, having split from the protesters, call a Lyft back to Gordon Park where we left our vehicle.
9:06: On the ride home, we pass the District 5 police station. The parking lot is full of what look like members of the military wearing full combat gear. We wonder who they are here to face.