A look at the DNC’s “security footprint” and plans for the days ahead

By: - August 18, 2020 3:03 pm
A drone, likely operated by police based on its complexity on the first day of demonstrations in Milwaukee. (Wisconsin Examiner | Isiah Holmes)

A drone, likely operated by police based on its complexity on the first day of demonstrations in Milwaukee. (Wisconsin Examiner | Isiah Holmes)

Opening day for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was supposed to be a huge opportunity for Milwaukee. Thousands of people were expected to stream into Wisconsin’s largest city for events spanning four days. The economic boost Milwaukee would have received would have been unrivaled. But then COVID-19 happened, and the format of the DNC had to change, adapt and change again. Joe Biden isn’t even coming to the Cream City.

Nevertheless, one thing that hasn’t changed is the high-security set-up in the downtown area. Local and federal police have been occupying the Wisconsin Center ever since the DNC shifted the whole event away from the bigger Fiserv forum months ago. Large black gates have been erected along the entire Wisconsin Center perimeter, locking in officers from the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) and other agencies.

Perhaps the police aren’t as forceful a presence as they would have been, but not because of COVID-19. Following the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in the early days of Milwaukee’s still ongoing Black Lives Matter marches, MPD’s use of tear gas has been stigmatized and restricted. After city officials began moving to restrain the department’s use of tear gas, numerous departments from neighboring and outside communities dropped their pledge to back up MPD at the DNC.

Still, the police and security presence in the nearly empty downtown in startling. Signs warning of K9 units and reminding people that drone use in the area is prohibited line the fence. Tents filled with officers, chatting and sipping coffee as they prepared for night patrols, sat a few meters away from the Wisconsin Center itself. Outside the gate, officers in both marked and unmarked civilian cars monitored the area.


No protests occurred on Monday, the first evening of the DNC, though legal observers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) still walked the area for hours. As night fell, some residents organized to project the words “defund the police” onto the MPD headquarters. Legal observers, including Emilio de Torre, executive director of Milwaukee Turners, a historic physical education and social justice organization, posted on Facebook as drones shadowed them in the night.

On August 20, a march on the DNC is planned by local activists who are taking part in the Coalition to March on the DNC. Ryan Hamman, chairman of the group, was expecting thousands of people to join prior to COVID-19; now it’s looking like there will just be hundreds.

“Now we’re still looking, hopefully, for a couple hundred people at least,” Hamman told Wisconsin Examiner. He notes that the DNC’s changes in format triggered a variety of perspectives on how to approach the march.

“Like how many marshals we need, how many police liaisons we need, or how much police presence we need to worry about,” he said. “With the changing political climate, specifically I’m referring to the uprisings since the gruesome police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we’ve decided that it may be in our best interests, and the best thing politically, to center our one demand around community control of the police and an end to police terror.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.