Nov. 13–Every week since the Sept. 23 release of a video that showed Derek Williams gasping for breath in the back of a Milwaukee police car, protesters from “Occupy the Hood” have marched in the streets.
For the first time Sunday, one of those marches resulted in arrests.
Police say the four people arrested were blocking traffic near N. 27th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. Those arrested say that although they did march through the street, police accompanied them the whole way — a statement police confirmed. They were not arrested until about 15 minutes after the demonstration ended, the protesters said.
Cellphone video shot by one of the people arrested shows the protesters standing on the sidewalk as they are being taken into custody.
“We really, honestly, didn’t do anything. They was just doing it because we had been protesting earlier,” said Jasmine Washington, 24, who was ticketed for blocking traffic and resisting arrest.
She was walking to her car to leave when she was handcuffed, she said. She asked the officer why she was being arrested.
“He said it was because I stepped in the street,” Washington said.
Washington and two of the other people arrested, Khalil Coleman, 26, and Anthony Williams, 24, who made the recording, told the Journal Sentinel this version of events:
The march had broken up and people were heading home when they came upon a man arguing with a police officer on the grass in front of an apartment building. They did not know the name of the man, who had earlier come out of his home to join the march. He was demanding the officer’s name, saying he wanted to file a complaint.
A supervisor arrived and the man was handcuffed. As he was being arrested, the bystanders can be heard on the video telling him not to resist.
“We stood there on the sides,” Coleman said. “The officers first tried to tell us to leave. We said we had the right to be there, then the police turned on us and they arrested us.”
A statement on the Milwaukee police website says the altercation began after “one intoxicated man stood in the middle of the roadway and screamed obscenities at officers. When he refused repeated commands to move out of the street, he was arrested for disorderly conduct. Several others gathered around the man being arrested and blocked the roadway. Three of them were arrested and cited for disorderly conduct — one of them for disorderly conduct while armed, because he came to the protest armed with a .22-caliber pistol.”
Coleman said he has a concealed carry permit and the weapon was registered. When police found out the gun was legal, they accused him of being armed with a stick, he said.
Coleman has two misdemeanor convictions on his record, but nothing that would disqualify him from obtaining a weapons permit under Wisconsin law.
Police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz would not confirm or deny Coleman’s statements, saying only that it was illegal for her to disclose whether someone has a concealed-carry permit.
Asked to explain the discrepancy between the statement on the website, which says those arrested were blocking traffic, and the video, which shows them in the grass and on the sidewalk, she said in an email: “We have had demonstrations every weekend for several weeks and officers have used great restraint, including letting the demonstrators use the street, and we have provided escorts for safe passage. These arrests on Sunday are the first since the demonstrations began. The video also does not capture the entire event before the start of filming.”
The Sunday afternoon protests, which begin in a different part of the city every week, generally start with a group of 30 or 40 demonstrators. Along their route, people come out of their houses and join the march, sometimes increasing their numbers to more than 100.
The demonstrations were prompted by the July 2011 death of Derek Williams in Milwaukee police custody.
A squad car video showed Williams died after gasping for breath and begging for help for about eight minutes in the back of a police car as he was ignored by officers.
The video was posted on JSOnline in September after 10 months of public records requests and negotiations with the city. Officials at the Police Department, district attorney’s office and Fire and Police Commission all viewed the video months earlier and had concluded the officers involved did nothing wrong.
The medical examiner originally called the death natural but changed it to homicide as the result of a Journal Sentinel investigation. In forensic terms, homicide means “death at the hands of another” and does not necessarily mean a crime was committed.
The FBI has launched a criminal civil rights investigation into Williams’ death. A public inquest led by a special prosecutor also will be convened.
In a separate inquiry, federal authorities in Washington, D.C., are investigating whether to there is a pattern of civil rights violations and enough evidence to file suit against the Police Department.
Anthony Williams, who is not related to Derek Williams, said the officers’ actions at the most recent march show more needs to be done.
“They don’t care about any type of reconciliation between the Police Department and the citizens of Milwaukee,” he said. “Some cops out there don’t care about the relationship between the police and the community they supposedly serve.”
The protests will continue until Flynn is removed and an independent review board is created to examine police shootings and deaths in the custody of the Milwaukee police, Williams said.
“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “This intimidation is not going to be effective.”
To view a video of the arrests, go to: http://bit.ly/SXOi5Q