More Than 30 Homicides Have Been Recorded In Milwaukee So Far This Year

Some City Residents Concerned By Bill That Would Eliminate Waiting Period For Gun Purchases

Jeramey Jannene (CC-BY)

Homicides in Milwaukee have roughly tripled this year compared to the first three months of 2014, with city residents hoping more can be done to stop the bloodshed.

More than 30 people were murdered in Milwaukee during the first quarter of the year. Almost all were shot to death.

It’s made for a busy time for some people at the Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, who hold sidewalk prayer vigils for the deceased. Recently, the group held a vigil for 57 year-old Richard Harris, who police say was shot in the street outside his home. Harris’s brother Joseph came by unexpectedly and talks about his sibling.

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“I know one thing: He didn’t bother no one. He stayed with my mom. He helped people work on houses. And we assume that’s what he was doing out here that morning,” said Harris.

Last year at this time, there were plenty of nonfatal shootings in Milwaukee, but the death toll was about a third of this year’s number. Milwaukee Police Chief Ed FLynn has occasionally made media appearances talking about the increase in murders. Last week, he was asked about it again, and whether any police officers who may be dismayed by former Officer Christopher Manney’s failure to win his job back are up for the challenge.

Manney had been fired for conducting an out-of-policy pat-down before fatally shooting a black man last year.

“Our cops work in a dangerous environment, and that violence is highly concentrated. Now, we’re going to do our best to continue to provide them the training and support and the tactics they need to be successful. But we recognize we’re facing a significant problem right now and we are going to be committed to getting it under control,” said Flynn.

Flynn said his officers have already seized about 520 guns from criminals this year — 100 more than last year at this time.

In some of more-violent neighborhoods, a new violence prevention program is trying to get underway.

A coalition of Milwaukee churches, neighborhood groups and community activists recently announced a “safe zone” initiative that aims to interrupt or head off potential violence.

William Harris plans to be one of the so-called H.O.O.D ambassadors. He said he used to be part of the problem, and served time in prison.

“But we’re here now to put a stamp on this. In you don’t believe us now, you will believe us, ’cause we’re here to make this happen,” said Harris.

But even with initiatives like the safe zones, there’s concern that some state lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker may take a step that would increase guns and gun violence in Milwaukee and elsewhere in the state. A bill partway through the Legislature would eliminate the 48 waiting period to buy a handgun.

Joyce Ellwanger, who attended the vigil for Richard Harris, said that bill was “bad news.”

“A lot of the incidents we see are incidents of retaliation, instant retaliation, and of anger that could be dissipated before something as tragic as a life is taken,” said Ellwanger.

Walker appears ready to sign the bill, although he may make some tweaks to protect domestic violence victims. Walker has said criminal background checks on gun buyers can now be done quickly.

“We want to make it hard for criminals to get access to illegal guns, but make it convenient for law-abiding citizens to use a firearm,” said Walker.

In about 10 days, Walker and other possible GOP presidential candidates plan to speak at the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Tennessee.