A Fire and Police Commission (FPC) meeting in Milwaukee Monday night culminated in 11 directives being handed down to Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales as part of a six-month performance evaluation. Outside city hall, protesters from both the city’s revitalized Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and a pro-police Back the Badge crowd gathered to show support for Morales or rain down discontent over the actions of his officers.
“We’re ready for change,” sang the crowd of protesters, who had marched to city hall after making signs and organizing plans at a nearby park. As the weeks go on, the art displayed by the BLM marchers has become increasingly elaborate. Outside city hall, protesters held large custom-made banners. Some had converted screenshots of conversations inside pro-police Facebook groups into large personal signs.
Across from them, a smaller group of people gathered, some with signs, in support of Morales. He took the job in 2018, after Chief Ed Flynn retired. Flynn reportedly said in his final days on the job, “In the chief job, you have to be willing to alienate everybody at some point.” It’s a heavy role with a heavy toll, as Morales has learned, particularly over the weeks of protest since May 29 in Milwaukee.
Some crime statistics in the city had been improving prior to the pandemic under Morales, who has support in parts of Milwaukee’s Hispanic community. Back in February, after militarized raids targeted alleged drug traffickers in the city, Morales said only about 10% of residents are responsible for the majority of violent crime in Milwaukee. Morales seemed optimistic about partnerships with the community and other law enforcement agencies. “There’s some good things happening in Milwaukee,” he said.
Five months later, the FPC has put the chief on a deadline. A set of 11 directives were given to Morales, to be followed over the next six months. If he fails to comply, then he faces being fired. Among them is a directive to provide full audits and reports related to incidents which involved local activists and organizers, including popular community leader Vaun Mayes, who faces federal charges for targeting police in an alleged conspiracy to firebomb the Milwaukee police station that he denies. Morales must also provide a public explanation on the use of tear gas during the protests, and provide details regarding how evidence is protected. The FPC is also requesting documents and explanations related to the termination of seven Police Services Specialist Investigator (PSSI) employees.
Review of MPD’s compliance with the conditions of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stop-and-frisk settlement is also ordered, as well as improved compliance with open records law, a staff review, and other directives. Although the FPC has laid down the terms and conditions which may dictate Morales’ future as chief, the commission itself is going through controversy and upheaval within its ranks.
Upon hearing of the directives, many protesters said they expected Morales would not be fired. A few brought a computer and projected the Zoom version of the FPC meeting on a nearby building. Some of the pro-Morales protesters questioned whether firing the chief would solve the problems raised by the BLM marches. Danielle White, a Milwaukee resident on the pro-Morales side of the street, was one of those people.
“I support the Black Lives Matter movement completely, full heartedly,” White told Wisconsin Examiner. “But I don’t think that taking Chief Morales out of office is going to change what they want to change. So I’m conflicted, I should say. Because I’m for it, but I don’t think that taking Chief Morales out of office is going to give them the change that they want, or I feel that they deserve.” White feels Morales, “chose Milwaukee in true compassion, and integrity and honesty. And he won’t back down just because other people want him to.”
Many on the BLM side of the street, however, had a different perspective. At least three are also in public office at the city or state levels. “At the end of the day, if we keep on the track that we’re on right now, nothing will change,” said Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee), who spoke to the crowd using a loudspeaker. “Some people are so afraid of change right now that it scares them. They have used the police department to remove Black bodies for decades.” Speaking to the pro-Morales crowd, Bowen respectfully disagreed with their support of the chief. “It is time for us to realize that this moment calls for us, ya’ll.”
Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee) also spoke through the loudspeaker to the crowd. Referring to his infant son, Brostoff said that he hopes that his son is able to look back at the inequalities of today and confidently say, due to the current movements in the streets, “that used to happen.” Brostoff also addressed the Tru
mp administration’s mention of Milwaukee as one of the next cities that could see deployments of paramilitary federal agents, who have grabbed protesters in Portland, Ore. off the streets using unmarked vans. “He called out Milwaukee specifically,” said Brostoff. “He’s scared of us, because we’re doing it. Because we’re winning, while they’re sinning … The sinners are afraid of the winners.”
Next came County Supervisor Sequanna Taylor, who urged the protesters to develop specific policy demands. “If we’re going to start marching we need to start demanding. We need to make sure that they’re changing laws. And we need to make sure that there’s no more lip service because change isn’t coming, change is here. Power to the people.”
After the meeting was over, the protesters marched through the nearby streets of downtown Milwaukee. Though verbal interactions occurred between the two groups, BLM marchers and Morales supporters, no conflict erupted. Well before the meeting ended, the Morales crowd got up and left as a single group.
Protests in Milwaukee have now occurred on a near daily basis for over 50 straight days. “No longer are we going to go through these cycles for a couple days,” said Bowen, “get mad for a couple weeks, get mad for a couple months, maybe even get mad for over a year, and everything gets back to normal. We want a new normal. The norm will be that there will be a police department that is accountable to you.” Looking at the crowd, made up of people in their 20’s, Bowen added, “We’re going to have that new normal in our lifetime. We won’t just wait for the next generation to take it over. We’re going to do it now.”