As Sunday’s 9 p.m. curfew drew closer in the city of Milwaukee the County Supv. Ryan Clancy, of Dist. 4, prepared for what that could mean for residents. The police brutality protests had been massive, though they remained peaceful during the day. Saturday evening, however, saw instances of looting which occurred well past midnight. The curfew soon followed which would apply to most residents, except county supervisors like Clancy. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
During the day, Clancy had served as a legal observer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin. In that capacity, he and other trained volunteers shadowed the marches to observe and document interactions with police. “Once 9 o’clock and the curfew took over,” Clancy said at a Monday press conference at his house, “I knew that I couldn’t be an impartial legal observer for the ACLU anymore. So I took off that vest and I kind of put on my other hat,” as a county supervisor.
Wearing a pin on his shirt identifying him as a supervisor, Clancy continued monitoring the condition and needs of protesters. “I was doing constituent outreach,” explained Clancy, “so I was really making sure that the people of Milwaukee kind of were. And, in particular, focusing on interactions between law enforcement and the public.”
By then, the National Guard had been activated to prevent further looting, and law enforcement from surrounding communities flooded the city. Armored trucks like MRAMP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles, humvee-style trucks, and up-armored police rescue vehicles set up positions as nondescript helicopters, drones, and planes circled overhead. Protesters had been pepper sprayed and tear gassed late Saturday night, and this new augmented presence unnerved some.
Standoffs and arrests at the Shorewood border
Although Milwaukee had a curfew, the nearby suburb of Shorewood did not have a curfew. With a largely white population, the difference in curfew policy wasn’t lost on the protesters. “I’d like to think that it was an accident that there wasn’t a huge [police] response, until this peaceful protest was about to head into Shorewood,” Clancy told Wisconsin Examiner. “I hope it’s not, but I think it might be telling,” he said. “Is Shorewood protecting themselves from us?”
Regardless, they sought to use it to their advantage, and gather on the Shorewood side of the border where no curfew existed. “Things were kind of coming to a close,” recalls Clancy, “I’d just texted some other people like, ‘It looks like nothing’s really happening here. I don’t feel like my presence is needed here anymore. I’m going to get a Lyft, and try to make it home.’”
A few minutes later, the majority of the march moved on as a few dozen other protesters lingered on the corners. It had been a long day of marching, and many were marking their second or third consecutive days. For the most part, however, the remaining nearby people were, “people walking their dogs, [people] that were kind of on their way to and from work,” said Clancy. “They were immediately surrounded by every law enforcement officer that had jurisdiction in the city of Milwaukee.”
Milwaukee PD officers, state police, Milwaukee and Racine County Sheriffs, and numerous other agencies were easily identified. “As far as I can tell the National Guard was there, too,” explained Clancy, “although sometimes local ones [police] do look militarized as well.”
They all pounced on the lingering residents in what the supervisor describes as “an overwhelming response to what was really a couple of people hanging out.” It confused Clancy as there were no crimes being committed, no looting nearby, and protests remained peaceful throughout the day. “The law enforcement response escalated a couple of people hanging out into something that was really ugly.”
He noted that rather than issuing orders, officers tackled people and promptly arrested them. Among those arrested was Clancy, who identified himself as a county supervisor multiple times. It did no good, and Clancy was placed in the back of a police van with four other people. Because there were no masks nor social distancing allowing in police custody, Clancy is now quarantining himself from his family.
“My arrest came after I’d filmed a young African American man being thrown to the ground, extremely violently,” he recounts. Others who were serving as street medics were also thrown down and arrested. In his own case, Clancy says Milwaukee officers “tackled me and brought me to the ground.”
The implications of curfew
On one hand, some may justify the police response due to the prior reports of looting. That aside, officers also spent most of the day interacting with understandably frustrated and angry citizens. At times they were screamed at while silently holding a line. For Clancy, however, those arguments are moot.
“Screaming at a police officer is not against the law,” he explained. “There were no crimes happening other than existing in the city of Milwaukee.” Additionally, Clancy witnessed officers essentially herding citizens from Shorewood to Milwaukee, where a curfew was active.
In custody, the supervisor claims to have heard officers “joking about shots being fired at or near the police station.” Detainees were then transported from the police van to a bus, before being separated by gender or given to other districts. At some point, however, officers seemed to realize who the supervisor was, and he eventually did not have to bail out. “It was not a lawful arrest,” said Clancy.
Proposals for police reforms have been drafted both by ordinary citizens, and state legislators. Clancy hopes that not only his experience but that of others as well will be used to help push these reforms. “We’ve been aware that this has been a problem for long enough,” he told Wisconsin Examiner. “If law enforcement agencies haven’t gotten it together enough to avoid what we saw yesterday, we need to take other action.” Defunding the police, cutting off military equipment to local departments, and re-training officers are just a few of the demands that have surfaced recently. “We need bigger asks,” he said.
Marches continue in Milwaukee for a fourth straight day. Mayor Tom Barrett said that while there is no curfew planned for Tuesday night, he’s prepared to initiate one at a moments notice. Meanwhile the Trump Administration has threatened to send the U.S. military into American cities to confront protesters. In his own arrest, Clancy says the implications of how the curfew worked in Milwaukee are telling. “I don’t want special treatment as a county supervisor,” he said. “I want everybody to be treated with the same respect.” Clancy asserts, “The assumption should never be that the existence of someone in a space is a crime.”