Midway through August, when disorder broke out in the Sherman Park neighborhood, anyone too young to remember the 1960s in Milwaukee might have missed the parallels to – and contrasts with – the 1967 riots, which left a much wider swath of the city smoldering and damaged. This time, the fires were smaller, affecting just a handful of businesses, but the tensions unleashed were no less explosive. – Matt Hrodey and Tom Tolan
July 30 – Aug. 3, 1967
Catalyst: Inner city residents felt trapped. Attempts to pass a fair housing law in Milwaukee to prohibit housing discrimination had failed.
Epicenter: Third Street and North Avenue.
Advance Warning: As riots raged in other U.S. cities that summer, rumors and threats presaged some kind of unrest in Milwaukee.
Police Response: At Mayor Henry Maier’s orders, rifle-toting police blocked streets and enforced a citywide, all-ages, 24-hour curfew, which was later relaxed to night hours only.
Curfew Duration: 9 days
Role of the National Guard: Members patrolled the streets alongside Chief Harold Breier’s police force.
Mayor’s Response: According to historian John Gurda, “No other big city mayor responded so swiftly and with such sweeping measures,” effectively enforcing a state of martial law.
Long-term Effects: Open housing laws were passed in 1968, after multiple marches, and Gurda sees Mayor Henry Maier’s crackdown as leading to an increase in white flight.
Aug. 13-15, 2016
Catalyst: The police shooting and death of 23-year-old Sylville Smith*, which strengthened existing concerns about police aggression toward blacks.
Epicenter: Gas station near Sherman Boulevard and Burleigh Street.
Advance Warning: Unrest hit other cities, but demonstrations following recent police shootings in Milwaukee had remained peaceful.
Deaths: 0 (Smith’s death is not included in casualties from unrest)
Police Response: Officers protected by riot gear and an armored personnel carrier primarily played a peace-keeping role. The 10 p.m. curfew imposed by Mayor Tom Barrett on Aug. 15 applied only to youth.
Curfew Duration: 1 week
Role of the National Guard: Soldiers traveled to local armories but were never deployed to the street.
Mayor’s Response: Barrett accused a small number of agitators of stirring up trouble, praised police restraint and vowed to rebuild the damaged areas.
Long-term Effects: Too soon to tell.