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Milwaukee initiative hopes to get kids off the streets, into programs during summer months

Homicides, nonfatal shootings down in Milwaukee this year

A man runs up to the basketball goal holding a basketball outdoors at a park.
Milwaukee resident Myles Horton, right, plays basketball on a court at Columbia Playfield on Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in Milwaukee, Wis. Horton grew up playing at this park before it was renovated. Angela Major/WPR

Camping trips. A cooking class. Tours of the city. Art classes. A mental health boot camp.

Milwaukee leaders are urging the city’s youth to participate in these and many other programs and events offered by several organizations this summer as part of the “Safer City MKE” initiative. The initiative is part of an effort to help keep kids off the streets during the summer months, a time when violence often increases in the city.

School children who participate will get orange wristbands they can wear throughout the summer. A wristband giveaway was hosted by the United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee last week during the first ever Milwaukee Peace Week, which included a neighborhood walk, a gun violence summit, a faith-based panel discussion, as well as a resource fair.

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Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said he believes the city is “resource rich” and encouraged youth to get involved this summer.

“There’s so many opportunities for young people to be engaged and to get involved and to do positive things in neighborhoods all across the city and not go down the wrong path and not get in trouble,” Johnson said during a press conference this past Friday. “For young people that get involved in programs in Milwaukee, it presents an opportunity for you to stay on the right path and to grow up to become leaders.”

Prizes will be handed out to those who are seen wearing the bracelets throughout the summer. Ashanti Hamilton, the director of the Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention, said he hopes other kids will want to get a bracelet if they see them around.

“We want to use the partnerships that exist so that every youth in the city of Milwaukee will have the opportunity, if they wanted to take advantage of it, for positive programming in this city,” Hamilton said.

He said he often hears the narrative that there’s nothing positive for youth in Milwaukee to do when school is out.

“We want to dispel that right off the top going into the summer,” Hamilton said.

Milwaukee police Sgt. Shannon Seymer-Tabaska said the bracelets are also a way to connect with others who have made similar positive commitments.

“Positive reinforcement can be one of the most effective ways to change a young person’s behavior,” Seymer-Tabaska said.

Homicides, nonfatal shootings down this year

City leaders are promoting the program as they head into the time of year when violence typically heats up, and while Milwaukee is working to combat crime following three straight years of record murder rates.

Homicides are down 35 percent this year compared to last year, according to crime statistics from the Milwaukee Police Department. Nonfatal shootings are also down 5 percent. But a 2019 study from the University of Southern California found that violent crime increases when the temperature rises in the summer.

While speaking at a Rotary club of Milwaukee event Tuesday, Johnson said there’s more work to be done to keep those numbers down.

“It’s my belief that people have to feel safe. People must feel safe, and we have to work to make sure that every single Milwaukeean, every single visitor, every single commuter, feels safe in our city,” Johnson said.

Violent crime in Milwaukee fell by 7 percent last year. Other serious crimes — including robbery, auto thefts and theft — were collectively down 15 percent last year. Even so, Milwaukee broke its homicide record for the third year in a row in 2022.

‘It will benefit them greatly’

Some of the organizations involved in the effort include the Urban Ecology Center, Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee Recreation, Milwaukee Christian Center and the Greater Milwaukee Urban League.

The Greater Milwaukee Urban League will offer youth a tour of Milwaukee and Madison, a mental health boot camp and technology classes, among other opportunities. Shirron Jude, the director of programs for the Greater Milwaukee Urban League, encouraged guardians to get their children involved.

“Parents, please get your kids involved, get them engaged,” Jude said. “It will benefit them greatly.”

Milwaukee Recreation will also offer over 60 all-day camps for kids in the city. They also offer breakfast, lunch and dinner for children as well as playground programs at playgrounds across the city.

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