NASW WI Response to the Disorder in Milwaukee on August 12th and 13th

by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

NASW WI is saddened by the violence, disorder and destruction that took place in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee on August 13th and 14th.  Sherman Park has always been a neighborhood where residents of different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds worked together for the overall benefit of the community.

We grieve over the loss of the life of Sylville Smith and offer our condolences to his family.

We offer healing prayers to those community members and police officers injured in the weekend violence.

We are also saddened for the businesses that were destroyed both for the impact on the employees and owners and for the community members who used these businesses.

As social workers we understand, though do not condone, how anger and frustration over lack of employment opportunities, overall poverty. lack of decent and affordable housing, poor schools, minimal family support, disrespect and mistreatment from some police officers and some community business owners and other conditions can lead to violence.  We also recognize that many in the community have experienced trauma that impacts their ability to function effectively in their community.

To heal this neighborhood and other challenged areas of Milwaukee, we urge our elected officials and other community leaders to address the underlying issues that fuel a sense of hopelessness and despair, which can lead to violence.   We urge city, county and state government to invest in the people of Milwaukee by promoting family supporting  jobs, excellent schools, decent and affordable housing  and a police force that is the best trained in our state to work with diverse communities and crisis including mental health crisis situations.  Universal home visitation programs for first time parents, universal pre-school, comprehensive culturally responsive mental health and substance abuse treatment services, mentors and other supports for children and youth are other programs that can strengthen the community.

Institutional racism and implicit bias in institutions and individuals interacting and serving these communities also needs to be addressed.

We all need to listen and hear each other’s pain and experiences and come together to develop ways to improve the community.

Let’s hope that this weekend of violence and destruction can lead to soul searching and actions on a city, county and state level to address and change attitudes and public policies in order to provide a pathway to empowered and healthy neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee.