This year, American cities have been ravaged with violent protests and riots over claims of police brutality. Many large and mid-size cities have seen fires and looters destroy personal property and businesses, and people have been injured or killed. Is a Wauwatosa riot on the horizon?
This week we are anticipating to hear the long awaited results of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s charging decision involving Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah, who fatally shot 17-year-old Alvin Cole on Feb. 2. Mensah has shot a total of three males on duty over a five-year period. Chisholm has already ruled the first two shootings justified self-defense; police say Cole fired a gun at Mensah first in the Mayfair Mall parking lot, which Cole’s family disputes.
Many Wauwatosa residents have expressed great anxiety to us about what will happen if no charges are issued in the case. We think they have good reason to be concerned.
It comes as no shock to us that the worst violence has occurred in cities where state and local leaders have exhibited weakness and some support for the rioters as we saw in Kenosha. This kind of leadership is asinine. As with terrorists, a show of weakness and indecision will be seen as an opportunity to strike even harder causing possibly destruction or even death. If a Wauwatosa riot happens, removing criminals from the streets and restoring public order must be the top priority. Cities that fail to effectively carry out an aggressive action plan will just surrender themselves to many more weeks or months of destruction and anarchy. The citizens and businesses of these cities deserve better.
To be clear, we are not talking about peaceful protests in this column. People have a right to engage in peaceful protest in American society, and we support that right wholeheartedly. Those people aren’t terrorists. They’re exercising lawful civic engagement. We’re talking, instead, about the criminal anarchy we witnessed in Kenosha, where we saw people burning a credit union and trashing cars with no visible push back from police. In Louisville, it was a different story by the time we got there, but two police officers were shot in the opening day of the riots. That’s the behavior the City of Wauwatosa must prevent.
To the leaders of Wisconsin and Wauwatosa, here are our words of advice:
Ask For Help Now
Gov. Tony Evers and Mayor Dennis McBride: Don’t be so naive (or arrogant, or both) to think federal aid is not necessary. Request National Guard in addition to federal law enforcement personnel to assist Wisconsin and local police. Ask that this help be sent 24 hours prior to the decision day. Request full mutual aid from area communities and special units which have needed surveillance systems and equipment. In Kenosha, the National Guard presence was botched due to some kind of miscommunication but once federal agents arrived, things immediately calmed down. The sheriff admitted as much. We saw the ramifications of that delay. Portland didn’t want the federal intervention; look how that worked out.
If a Wauwatosa riot happens, the rioters must be dealt with harshly. Establish an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Do this on the front end as a prevention tactic, not after rioting ignites. Arrest all those who violate the curfew and incarcerate those who incite violence and destruction. We really like the $1,000,000 bail that was initially implemented in Lancaster, PA. That almost immediately put an end to the riots. Do that!
Hold The Line
Law enforcement should draw a line that rioters will not be permitted to cross. Protect symbols. Overwhelmingly enforce that line and do not under any circumstances give it up, like when Minneapolis allowed a police station to be burned down or when Kenosha allowed the community correction building to be destroyed. In Kenosha, the “line” was the courthouse. In Louisville, after the shooting, police even enforced the line outside a church, arresting curfew violators. We think Mayfair Mall and the Wauwatosa Police Department are symbols that will be targeted, and some officials’ homes might be too. Close the mall, protect the police department, city hall and officials’ private residences at all cost. Lose those, and the city will follow.
Don’t Push Rioters Into Neighborhoods or Business Districts
As we saw in Kenosha, pushing the rioters in the neighborhoods and business district will only lead to disaster. Keep the rioters contained in a park or parking lot after curfew. Even if it means you have to monitor them all night. After curfew, contain them and begin to make arrests one by one as we saw happen in Louisville with successful results. In Kenosha, police literally pushed protesters out of the park and some protesters then ended up rampaging through a business district, burning down an office furniture store and torching a used car lot. They did the exact same thing the next night and that resulted in a shooting that left two men dead, one severely injured, and one facing intentional homicide charges, although his attorney says he acted in self defense. Business owners and residents we spoke to there were furious.
Law enforcement is only effective when agencies communicate directly with each other. Politicians must allow that to happen. State, local and law enforcement officials should conduct daily briefings and release video footage to show what is really happening. In Louisville, the police streamed their own live protest video. This was smart. Don’t relinquish control of the narrative.
In the case of a Wauwatosa riot, criminal acts must be investigated. Indict or charge all those who violated state or federal law. Anyone who trains, funds, or organizes the rioters should also be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Rogue prosecutors who refuse to prosecute these criminals should be identified and removed from office.
We would like to see an introduction of legislation to combat and deter the destruction we saw in Kenosha. Allow for high bail amounts and 10-year minimum prison sentences for anyone, looting, committing arson, and destroying property during the time of a riot.
Disclosure: Wisconsin Right Now’s Jessica McBride is the niece of Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride.