Letter to Mayor Barrett (Answer the call for change)

Dear Mayor Barrett,

I have been a supporter of yours since 1992, and today I’ve never been more disappointed in your leadership.

My friends, my neighbors, my children, and I are all marching, and you have enabled the police and national guard to operate as an occupying military force that is treating our citizens as enemy combatants rather than concerned citizens speaking against racial injustice.

We need leadership. We need listening. We need engagement. We need change. You are well aware of the racial disparities in this city that have been amplified by Covid-19 and the economic collapse. I know how hard you are working to coordinate and support community resources around these issues. You also know that police officers have abused their power with little or no consequences or accountability on too many occasions. I believe you actually care and want to unite and heal our community, but your actions and words during the past week that I’ve heard – and I’m not hearing much – don’t demonstrate that. I have worked hard over the years in my professional life and volunteer work to make this a better community for everyone. You have often been there with sleeves rolled up. Where are you now?

I have watched as friends and neighbors have been manhandled, shot at with tear gas, and treated inhumanely by the police. I’ve heard crickets from you about those abuses captured in so many videos. You ask for calm and restraint from protesters, but not from police. Yes there have been a few whose authentic rage or opportunism has caused damage, but the vast majority of protesters are doing what you celebrate every year on Martin Luther King Day. And your police are acting as those police did back then, which is disgraceful in 2020.

Last night, I watched live on Channel 4’s online feed as police tear-gassed and attacked peaceful protesters.  It is a pattern I have watched with outrage the past few days — peaceful marches provoked by police instead of protected by police. It seems like the police want violence and conflict because then it creates a narrative that justifies their aggressive tactics and systemically racist behaviors. Yet, their very actions reinforce what the protests are all about – racially biased, impulsive, and unaccountable abuse of power.

The bottom line is that you must call for Chief Morales to be removed. He has failed our community. He has no credibility to lead in our community. If you are more concerned with the voters who support his approach, then you will lose faith with many who have supported you. There have been thousands peacefully marching every day, and I still have not heard a response from you or any call to action. I’ve seen other mayors and police chiefs engage with community, and I do not see you doing the same. Even when 2,500 people showed up to clean up Harambee, your absence was notable. Your only tweet since Friday is a retweet of Joe Biden saying “This is a wakeup call.” What will you wake and do?

There is a better way. We deserve better. My children deserve better. My neighbors, friends, and colleagues deserve better. We elected you our Mayor, and in my many conversations with other community leaders in recent days I find many share my disappointment and some even rage. The first step must be firing the police chief who has enabled and even served as a catalyst for violence in our streets. The second is to demand new tactics around protests and protect our rights. The third is to listen and work to change policies and practices in our police department, address inequities in city laws, and advocate for change in state laws.

We all want a safe community, but we also want a community where our African American and Latino friends and neighbors don’t live with daily fear that they will experience hostile or abusive policing. Milwaukee – shamefully — has many of the worst racial disparities in our nation, and public knowledge of that limits our ability to attract and retain talent and grow our city. It also produces even greater stress and depression among our residents. How about you take action now to put us on the map for innovating in racial justice?

I know you care. I know it is complicated. But I also know that we need leadership and change now, not more tear gas and rubber bullets. Please lead us forward.


Paul Schmitz

Milwaukee, WI