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Nearly 2,000 Mourners Attend Funeral For Sylville Smith

Smith's Aunt: 'He was a wonderful child, a wonderful man'

Family members of Sylville Smith
Family of Sylville Smith gather Aug. 14, 2016 where Smith was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer. Jeffrey Phelps/AP Photo

Nearly 2,000 mourners assembled at Milwaukee’s Christian Faith Fellowship Church on Friday for the funeral of Sylville Smith, who was fatally shot by a police officer earlier this month.

Smith’s life was celebrated at the church on Milwaukee’s north side in a service that included remarks from the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The 23-year-old African-American was shot Aug. 13 by a Milwaukee police officer. Law enforcement said Smith was fleeing a traffic stop and had turned toward an African-American officer with a gun in hand when he was shot. A few hours after his death, protesters burned several buildings on the north side and skirmished with police.

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Many of those in attendance Friday were young, just like Smith, and wearing T-shirts with his picture printed on it.

Smith’s aunt, Carnetta Spruell, attended the funeral and was happy to see all the people there to support her nephew.

“He was a wonderful child, a wonderful man, and he didn’t deserve this,” Spruell said. “He was loved. We were wondering if they were going to find a church big enough to hold everybody, that was my worry, but they did.”

The service drew friends and family, but also those such as Thackery Bradley, a man who didn’t even know Smith. Bradley said parents like himself need to do more to support young people in their communities.

“To me, that’s why (I’m) here, because I’m looking at – what if this was my son?” Bradley said. “I’m feeling what’s going on here, and I want to bring myself into the situation and help mine and not only mine.”

Smith’s killing came after five men were killed in multiple shootings around the city during the two days prior. One man, killed the same day as Smith, was Spruell’s nephew, she said her family is coping through the “grace of God.”

“That’s all we can do right now,” Spruell said.

During the service, Jackson called on police to release body-camera footage law enforcement has said backs up the officer’s account of the shooting. Jackson said the community needs “to know what’s on the tape.”

He also called for healing and unity.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting.

State Attorney General Brad Schimel previously said two body cameras recorded the incident and have similar vantage points. Schimel also said the videos won’t be released until after the investigation is complete and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm decides whether to criminally charge the officer. Releasing the footage before could compromise the ongoing investigation, Schimel said.

State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, was among the officials who joined mourners and said Smith’s death and the unrest that followed could be a turning point and “make us move into action.”

“The part that’s new is the conversations around race and inequality and how to facilitate those,” Smith said. “That’s refreshing.”

Smith’s death set off two nights of unrest in the city’s Sherman Park neighborhood on the north side. Hundreds of people assembled in the streets. Some rioted, burning eight buildings, several vehicles and throwing rocks, bricks and other objects at police.

The turmoil drew national attention and started a broader conversation among city and state officials about the forces that ignited the violence — such as years of job losses and poverty in the city.

On Friday morning, Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and other city and state officials unveiled $4.5 million in state funding to be used for workforce and economic development efforts in city’s north side to respond to community struggles those conversations have highlighted.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include original reporting from WPR.