By Brendan O’Brien
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Tension eased on Monday night in Milwaukee, as teenagers respected a late night curfew to deter a third night of the rioting that hit the U.S. Midwestern city following the police shooting of an armed black man.
Milwaukee is the latest American city to have been gripped by a trend of violence over the past two years in response to fatal police confrontations with black men.
However, by 10 p.m. (0300 GMT), the situation in the city appeared calm, city and police officials told reporters, although there had been several arrests earlier in the evening.
“We think we are in, comparatively speaking, a positive place,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said, within an hour of the start of the curfew. The situation could change rapidly, however, Flynn warned.
Late on Monday afternoon, dozens of police, some in riot gear, cordoned off Sherman Park, the center of the neighborhood where the weekend shooting and subsequent disturbances took place. Nearby, about 100 people held a picnic in a grassy area.
As the sun set, pedestrians thinned out ahead of the 10 p.m. (0300 GMT Tuesday) curfew in the area, where police vehicles were seen parked in alleys and along major thoroughfares.
“There is a curfew that will be more strictly enforced tonight for teenagers,” Mayor Tom Barrett told a news conference. “So parents, after 10 o’clock, your teenagers better be home or in a place where they’re off the streets.”
Barrett renewed his call for state officials to release a video of Saturday night’s shooting in hopes it would convince angry protesters that deadly force against Sylville K. Smith, 23, was justified.
Milwaukee, famed for its breweries, is also one of the most segregated cities in America, with a black population plagued by high levels of unemployment absent in the mostly white suburbs.
Such inequality has afflicted many U.S. cities over the past three decades, sometimes stoking unrest when police use deadly force.
Police say Smith was stopped on Saturday afternoon for behaving suspiciously and he then fled on foot between two homes. Smith was carrying a stolen handgun he refused to drop before he was killed, police said.
The shooting led to a first night of violence in which gunshots were fired, six businesses were torched and 17 people were arrested. Police reported four officers were injured and police cars were damaged before calm was restored.
On Sunday night, when police in riot gear faced off with protesters throwing bottles and bricks, four officers were hurt and one person suffered a gunshot wound, police said. Three police squad cars were damaged and 14 people were arrested, authorities said.
‘I WANT THE VIDEO RELEASED’
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker activated the National Guard on Sunday in case more trouble flared, but despite the violence, police said the guardsmen were not called in.
The weekend shooting in Milwaukee was distinct in that the person killed was armed, according to the police account. The officer who fired the deadly shot was also black.
The mayor wants Wisconsin state officials to make the video public so as to corroborate the police account. State law that requires police shootings to be investigated by an independent state agency gives the state control over such evidence.
“I want the video released. … I’m going to urge that it be released as quickly as possible,” said Barrett, who has yet to see it.
Video from the officer’s body camera showed Smith had turned toward the officer with a gun in his hand, Flynn said on Sunday.
The video appeared to show the officer acting within the law, Flynn said, but because the audio was delayed, it was unclear when the officer fired his weapon.
Police had stopped Smith’s car, leading to the chase on foot.
Police said the car was stopped because Smith was acting suspiciously, raising skepticism within largely African-American neighborhoods where people report racial discrimination from police. Smith also had a lengthy arrest record, officials said.
(Additional reporting by David Ingram in New York and Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta, Peter Cooney and Curtis Skinner; Editing by James Dalgleish and Clarence Fernandez)