PerSISTERS group calls for the respect of peaceful protest in Wauwatosa

    Marchers with The Peoples Revolution dance and prepare to march from Wauwatosa City Hall. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
    Marchers with The Peoples Revolution dance and prepare to march from Wauwatosa City Hall. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

    A grassroots group known as the PerSISTERS has issued an open letter to Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), calling on the pair to “join us in a statement of commitment to justice and non-violence.” The letter was issued in light of ongoing protests in Wauwatosa, and concerns about what may follow a ruling expected this week from the Milwaukee District Attorney in the suburb’s most recent fatal police shooting.

    “We call on you to join us who are committed to pursuing accountability and a more just society through peaceful means,” reads the letter. “We ask you to join us in rejecting vigilantism and any groups that advocate vigilante acts. We ask you to publicly stand with us in our dedication to the Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and assembly.”

    Cheryl Juech, a member of the PerSISTERS, explained the group’s decision to issue the letter. “Part of it is frustration at the lack of dialogue,” she told Wisconsin Examiner, pointing to unanswered emails and phone calls to Hutton, Kooyenga, and others. But another motivator, she said, is her group’s concern “about how the protests that have been going on in Wauwatosa, in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin and in the country, are being painted as violent when to a great extent they’re peaceful. And they’re  part of what we embrace as our constitutional right to free speech and assembly. So we’re calling on these representatives to share that value — that we denounce vigilantism, but we embrace the right of free speech and free assembly.”

    Hutton and Kooyenga issued a response the following day on October 1. While the pair called for peace following the ruling on the Wauwatosa shooting, they also invoked the same perceptions of the protests which the PerSISTERS reject. “We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the violence that has already occurred within this community. As community leaders who care deeply about the City of Wauwatosa, we share the belief that non-violent means are the best avenue for achieving a more just and fair society. Persuasion is not achieved through intimidation.”

    Hutton and Kooyenga joined GOP colleagues earlier this year and in 2019 calling for a package of ‘tougher on crime’ bills. While some became law, others were vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers. They covered a broad range of policies, from increasing funding for police to modifying probation rules. Most of the policies  appeared to focus on increasing law enforcement and incarceration capacity for Milwaukee.

    Wauwatosa borders the City of Milwaukee, which has the largest African American population in Wisconsin, although the suburb is mostly white. When the protests in Wauwatosa culminated in a confrontation between a police officer and marchers outside the officer’s home, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner openly stated that the “deteriorating security and policing in Wauwatosa” would make residents leave the community. “The emigration from your city will be devastating to the very fabric of the community,” Sensenbrenner wrote to Mayor Dennis McBride. The congressman was attempting to convince the mayor to accept federal troops, which McBride rejected.

    Juech marked the response from Hutton and Kooyenga as a successful connection with public representatives. The PerSISTERS is a nationwide group, and brings together a diverse set of people who may disagree with one another but work towards a common goal. She asserts that these officials “were elected to represent us, and not to hide under a rock and be non-responsive.”

    Juech echoes her group’s philosophy, which is based on the teachings of Ghandi. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” said Juech. “That’s who we are. We’re committed to being that change. We are frustrated with how often individuals, political parties, and groups are painted as binary — in other words, that they’re not complex. And we’re not monolithic.”

    The “Good Trouble Takes A Village” event, a local demonstration on Saturday, Oct. 3, brought together members of The People’s Revolution (TPR), Indivisible Tosa, Tosa Together, Tosa Moms Tackling Racism, and others. After gathering in Wauwatosa’s Hart Park, the group of more than 100 marched down State Street, which leads to the Wauwatosa Village. Speakers included the families of Alvin Cole, Jay Anderson, Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee), county supervisors, representatives from local groups, and former Wauwatosa high school students.

    At around 2 P.M., the Wauwatosa Police Department arrived to declare the gathering unlawful, as it took up a main road flowing through the village. Officers drew  the ire of the crowd, and left without issuing citations or arresting anyone.

    Juech says constructive disagreement is key to meaningful conversations, which involve  “informing ourselves, educating ourselves, and wrestling with some of the real tough issues that confront all of us.”

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.