Milwaukee Mayor says presence of federal agents would be “counterproductive.”
The dystopian scenes on display in Portland, Oregon — with federal troops dropping in, brutalizing protesters, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and rounding people up off the street and speeding off in unmarked vehicles — could be coming to Milwaukee, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff told Fox News this week.
The federal presence in Portland, called a “constitutional crisis” reminiscent of a facist regime, is meant to disrupt the largely peaceful protests that are still happening nearly two months after the murder of George Floyd. Protests have similarly continued in Milwaukee for more than 50 days straight, with basically no reported violence or looting since the first few days of demonstrations, despite Trump’s repeated racist dogwhistles insisting that the Black Lives Matter movement poses a threat to the nation.
“You’ll see something rolled out this week as we start to go in and make sure the communities — whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland of the country — we need to make sure their communities are safe,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox News on Sunday.
Protests in Portland and Chicago have been mostly peaceful, though Chicago police tear gassed protesters over the weekend to stop them from tearing down a Christopher Columbus statue. After the federal troops were deployed in Portland, frequent clashes between police and demonstrators have once again become the norm.
But in Milwaukee, there has not been a notable clash between protesters and police since June 2 — and that incident was instigated by trigger-happy officers who were roundly criticized by the Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett.
“With few exceptions, protests in Milwaukee have been peaceful,” Barrett said in a statement to UpNorthNews. “It is preposterous to suggest Milwaukee needs federal agents to quell unrest or manage peaceful protests. Their presence at this time could be counterproductive.”
Milwaukee Alderman Cavalier Johnson, the Common Council president, said he was alarmed when he heard Meadows’ comments that troops could be coming to Milwaukee because of federal agents’ “heavy-handed tactics.” In one of the most high-profile incidents in Portland, a federal officer shot a completely peaceful protester in the face with a less-lethal bullet, fracturing his skull and face. The protester’s mother told Oregon Public Broadcasting he needed facial reconstruction surgery.
Camouflaged federal agents in rented vans have been driving around downtown Portland since July 14, yanking protesters off the streets without explaining to them why they are being detained, OPB reported. One man detained described being pulled into a van, having his face covered so he couldn’t see, and being taken to a building where feds searched his belongings and took pictures.
An internal Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by the New York Times warned DHS head Chad Wolf that the troops were not adequately trained for dealing with demonstrations. Instead, the New York Times reported, some of those agents are trained with tackling drug smuggling operations.
“This is the kind of nightmare scenario that no one ever expected,” said Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, who has attended the protests almost every day.
Brostoff said that while the potential deployment is “disgusting” and “un-American,” he took it as a sign that protesters are being heard and the Trump administration is scared of the sustained demonstrations.
“(Trump) may be attempting to use this heavy-handed approach — this ‘law and order’ sort of approach that is also stifling Americans’ First Amendment rights — in order to bolster his support and his base,” Johnson said. “That’s not what a President of the United States should do. That’s not what a unifying leader would do.”
Local officials and activists have been at odds with the Milwaukee Police Department since protests began, and even before. The department’s handling of demonstrators on June 2, and past coordination with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents are some of the reasons groups like Voces de la Frontera and a coalition of seven aldermen want Police Chief Alfonso Morales fired.
Brostoff said he would not be surprised if the department cooperated with federal agents. Johnson said he assumes that the federal agents would at least request MPD’s help during deployment, and said he hopes MPD would notify the Common Council if the department is told of an impending deployment.
In a statement to UpNorthNews, MPD said it “did not request federal assistance as it relates to patrolling protests and is unaware of any federal agents coming to Milwaukee.” The department did not answer a question of whether it felt federal troops were necessary, but said officers “will continue to protect and serve the members (of) our community as they exercise their rights to assemble and freedom of speech.”
There is every indication that the current federal response in Portland has backfired. Protests had dwindled to about 50 people nightly, but in recent days have swelled to thousands.
Should the deployment come to Milwaukee, Brostoff predicted, there would be an “overwhelming response” from city residents. Johnson pointed to the distrust many Milwaukeeans of color hold toward police, especially after state Republicans under ex-Gov. Scott Walker banned municipalities from requiring their employees to live within city limits. As a result, only about half of Milwaukee’s police officers live in the city.
“We have an issue with policing here where folks sometimes see our police officers as an occupying force, folks that don’t live in the community, may not even have a connection to it, but they come in with a badge and a gun in order to police it,” Johnson said. “I think that’s dangerous. I think that only compounds the issue if you send outside federal forces into a majority-minority city.”
Despite the plethora of concerns, there does not appear to be anything that local, county, or state officials could do to stop a federal deployment. Johnson said he is not aware of any way to stop it. Brostoff said he is uncertain but is working with other state officials to explore their options.
The office of Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said in a statement that he had not received any communication from the White House regarding the deployment but dismissed the issue as “a hypothetical situation” and instead focused on the coronavirus pandemic.
“Rather than focusing on a hypothetical situation, I am laser focused on working with state and federal officials to address the immediate and ever-growing demand for county services related to the economic and public health crisis caused by the pandemic,” Crowley said.
In Oregon, officials from the Portland mayor all the way up to Gov. Kate Brown have called for an end to the deployment. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has already said she “will not tolerate” a federal deployment similar to the one in Portland.
But Wolf, the Department of Homeland Security chief, has given no indication that he will pull troops out once deployed.
“I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job,” Wolf told Fox and Friends on Monday. “We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”