Wauwatosa mayor announces changes a week after one protest escalated, with its cause in dispute.
A week after tensions boiled over and someone fired a gun during a protest against police brutality in Wauwatosa, Mayor Dennis McBride announced the Milwaukee suburb will clamp down on protests by instituting what amounts to a protest curfew and enforcing all applicable ordinances to keep demonstrations in line.
McBride said in a Thursday afternoon statement that protests are now only allowed from noon to 8 p.m., that demonstrations will no longer be tolerated on private property, and that individuals will no longer be allowed to obstruct traffic in any way. Violating those ordinances could result in arrest or a $5,000 fine, McBride said.
“It’s absolutely wrong,” said Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, who has marched with protesters almost every day since demonstrations began over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. “It would be a better policy to take on police brutality, instead of taking on the people protesting against police brutality.”
The announcement was a stunning turnaround for the city, which for months, with minimal police resistance, allowed the overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrators to gather on the streets, in municipal buildings, and at Mayfair Mall, where a Black teen was killed by a police officer earlier this year. Protesters have spoken out against the continued employment of Officer Joseph Mensah, who is currently suspended after having killed three people — including the teen at Mayfair — in the past five years.
Protesters visited Mensah’s girlfriends house last week in Wauwatosa, and the demonstration ended in chaos after someone fired a gun at the home.
Mensah claimed protesters “tried to kill” him and shot at him as he retreated into his house, and the Wauwatosa Police Department echoed his claims. However, Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, who was present at the protest, said Mensah and the police are lying. Mensah antagonized and assaulted protesters, shot pepper spray at the crowd, and grabbed a demonstrator’s gun, which fired into the house, Bowen said.
Mensah was “out of control,” “ill-tempered,” and “reckless,” Bowen told UpNorthNews.
“He was focused on inciting violence, provoking protesters to fight him,” Bowen said.
McBride, in a Friday interview with UpNorthNews, defended his new hardline stance on protesters.
“There are conflicting versions of the event, but there are indisputable facts,” McBride said. “People went to the house, people taunted, people threw toilet paper, people went on the property, there was a scuffle.”
“My bottom line is this,” he continued. “The one indisputable fact is that none of that would have happened if the protesters had not gone to that house. That’s beyond dispute.”
The incident led U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the Republican who represents a swath of Milwaukee suburbs including Wauwatosa, on Tuesday to offer sending federal forces to quell the protests. McBride declined the offer on the grounds that the presence of federal agents would only serve to destabilize the situation further.
Yet McBride issued his warning to the demonstrators two days later.
“It’s only going to help pour gas on a situation that’s already on fire,” Bowen said.
McBride acknowledged there has already been pushback from protesters and some members of the public for his announcement, especially over his decision to impose a limit on the hours during which people can protest.
“I expected that some people would be offended by that, but what’s the alternative?” McBride said, referencing how some demonstrations have gone down sleepy residential streets in the early morning hours.
Nonetheless, protesters crossed into Wauwatosa late Thursday and early Friday morning. In a video captured by Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy, a few Wauwatosa squad cars blocked a group of several dozen marchers at the Wauwatosa-Milwaukee border. Demonstrators lined up before walking across the street into Wauwatosa, causing the police to reverse their vehicles and retreat into the city.
McBride told UpNorthNews those protesters set up outside his house around 12:30 a.m. Friday, but no one was arrested, despite the hardline stance in his initial statement. He said citations would be issued in the coming days.
Just hours before McBride instituted the new restrictions on Thursday, the head of the Wauwatosa police union announced 70 of the union’s 72 members have no confidence in McBride’s leadership. The Wauwatosa City Council voted 13-1 last month to formally urge the city’s Fire and Police Commission to fire Mensah; McBride signed the resolution. The no-confidence vote is in opposition to the Mensah’s likely firing.
McBride denied the union’s announcement had any effect on his decision to begin the protest crackdown.
“We had been working on that statement all week,” McBride said. “It had nothing whatsoever to do with it.”