Last night in the Sherman Park area, Milwaukee police officers in riot gear wrongfully arrested two men for no good reason. But this time, the men they arrested had the means to demand their rights and were released. The men were Jarrett English, an organizer at the ACLU of Wisconsin, and State Representative Jonathan Brostoff.
At about 9:30 p.m., a handful of people, including Mr. English and Rep. Brostoff, stood on the northeast corner of Sherman Boulevard and Auer Avenue, observing a large contingent of police officers who had blocked off Auer on the west side of Sherman. The street has been the gathering place for community members since the fatal police shooting of Sylville Smith on August 13.
Numerous officers then forcibly arrested Mr. English as he was walking away as instructed. He was handcuffed, forced to the ground, involuntarily searched, and placed in a police van with Rep. Brostoff. After officials became aware that they had arrested a state legislator, the two were released without charges.
When I had the chance of speaking with Jarrett, he told me this:
“The situation was confusing, because I really did not know what I was being arrested for. It was embarrassing and dehumanizing, and I did not feel that I was being treated with the dignity and respect that should be afforded any individual. But I was mostly thinking about all of the young people this happens to every day who don’t have anyone to call to get free. We cannot continue doing this to our people. It has to stop.”
The Milwaukee Police Department has once again demonstrated its preference for occupation, excessive force, and belligerence over genuine engagement, civil dialog, and de-escalation. People have a right to stand on a street corner – to observe and record the police, as Jarrett was doing, or for any other reason. Unfortunately, rather than protecting people and their rights, law enforcement in this community all too often engages in the sort of destructive behavior to which Jarrett and Jonathan were subjected to last night.
Although no one deserves to be treated like this, the police made the mistake this time of abusing people who were in a position to insist on their rights. Most people aren’t so lucky.
Jarrett English, a Milwaukee native, recently wrote about the history of police failures in his city. You can read it here.
CORRECTION: The piece originally identified Emilio De Torre as the legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. He is the ACLU of Wisconsin’s youth and programs director.