The following is a collection of stories compiled and introduced by Milwaukee musician and activist Johanna Rose.
On June 11, City Attorney Tearman Spencer’s office announced a press conference for the following morning. This statement alluded that all curfew citations issued between May 30 and June 1 would be dropped. The internet was overjoyed.
Having received one of those 170 curfew citations, I went to City Hall to see it for myself. What happened fell short of the assumed nullification. City Attorney Spencer said he would examine each curfew citation on a case-by-case basis, saying, “No one will be allowed to circumvent the law. You have a First Amendment right and it should be exercised, but it should be done lawfully.” In conclusion, he added, “By no means of the imagination am I saying I will not defend the police.”
This is not what the internet was celebrating, and it left the public with many questions. What is the process for determining if a citation will be dismissed? What about the people who received additional charges beyond curfew violation? Will those cited need to show up to their initial appearance? Should the cited individuals still get a lawyer?
When Mayor Tom Barrett instituted the curfew, the police treated it as permission to abuse their power beyond the extent of the law, arresting people for standing outside their houses, driving home from work, or in my case, walking down the street with a case of water. With their newfound freedom, the police spiked civilian car tires claiming reckless driving and arrested people at gunpoint. The police held these people, handcuffed, in garages of various precincts for hours on end without any consideration of COVID-19. Peaceful protesters were cited with ordinance violations for lawful conduct.
The Milwaukee Police Department’s immediate reaction to protesters affirmed the need for action. When a protest against police brutality is met with police brutality, it proves the point. We need serious change. Black Milwaukeeans have been demanding this change for decades. Many white Milwaukeeans have just begun to listen.
I have asked several incredible women that I met through my arrest to bravely share their stories in hopes that you will LISTEN and then demand that the City Attorney and District Attorney dismiss all citations and charges. Dismissing curfew tickets is not enough. We are demanding that City Attorney Tearman Spencer dismiss all municipal citations AND that Milwaukee District Attorney John T. Chisholm dismiss all criminal charges related to the protests against police brutality. And we demand a transparent and public process.
To whom it may concern,
My name is K. I am a 22 year old black woman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was born and raised here. At this point and time in our community, and communities around the world, we should all be aware of the injustices that are taking place. The protests in our streets are in response to the murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police officers. I, along with many Americans, have joined these protests and the call for justice to be served. In response to the peaceful protests, the city of Milwaukee instituted a curfew starting at 9 p.m. for two days.
On June 1, myself, my older brother, my younger cousin (who is pregnant), and two of my friends from college were driving looking to join protesters. We were not protesting at the time; we were simply looking for the march. As we got close, we noticed heavy police presence. We tried to turn our vehicle around because the National Guard had the road closed ahead. As we turned, more police cars pulled behind us to trap us in. There was another car next to us also trying to leave, but we couldn’t because we were boxed in. When we went to drive forward to turn to exit the street and escape the situation, police threw spikes on the road and flattened all four of my tires which caused our car to roll to a stop.
Police and National Guard members approached my car and pulled their weapons on us. I told everyone in the car to please just put their hands up so that they wouldn’t shoot us. One officer yelled at the driver to step out first, another officer yelled “Passengers’ hands out the window,” and then ordered me out of the car.
The entire time the officers saw my hands were up, yet they still kept their guns pointed at me. This caused my heart to skip beats. I was shocked; my entire body was numb because I didn’t know what was coming next. Anything could’ve happened to us in that moment.
As I turned around to check on my family and friends in the back, they were all being taken out of the car by officers with their guns drawn. I was immediately handcuffed for the first time in my life. I remember this vividly because they were ice cold and woke my body out of the shock. They made me realize this was really happening. Everything that I have ever seen on TV, in movies, and on the news was actually happening to us. I realized once I had those handcuffs on that I was “property” of the state. At that moment they could charge me with whatever, they could do whatever they wanted to me, all for a simple mistake. I was taken back to what happened to George Floyd, to many people before him, and why I was there in the first place.
I was really upset because it was all on television as if it was all set up: how they boxed us in and how the helicopter was there recording already. The news station made it seem as if we were protesting already and lumped us in with other cars they were negatively portraying. They assumed we were a part of that crowd when, in fact, we were not. I had never been arrested, and I took pride in having a squeaky clean record. But now that was all over.
After processing this and feeling those emotions, I realized again Floyd lost his life and his battle, but that mine and ours was only beginning. We are all here to win Floyd’s battle for him, even if it causes us some scars along the way. That’s what families do. We fight for one another. Some may get hurt while others may not.
During this battle, I met even more “family” members; as I was handcuffed, I was then taken and placed in the back of a police car with another woman. She made sure I did not speak to anyone because we were being recorded, and to make sure I asked for a lawyer. I didn’t understand why I would need a lawyer if I literally just made a wrong turn. I then began to panic as I looked around the police car and understood how individuals in a police car could die in the back. I struggled to breathe through a panic attack and realized I couldn’t even call an officer for help because I was locked up and they were all walking around, talking, and ignoring us.
The woman told me to calm down and breathe slowly. She told me not to panic because that would freak them out and we all know what happens when an officer is freaked out by a person of color. I worked hard to calm myself down until officers came and took her out of the car. My anxiety went back through the roof because now, if anything was going to happen to me, I had no witnesses. Sandra didn’t have any witnesses to speak for her. Trayvon didn’t have witnesses to speak for him. I was fearful of everything that night because my socialization, the news, and previous events in our country have continually taught me to fear the police.
After waiting for some sort of acknowledgement as to why we were being arrested or what was going to happen to us, an officer came to let me out of the police car. I asked where my brother and friends were and if we were going to be taken to the same place. Every answer I got was that they didn’t know or they were unsure. I was taken to a police van and reunited with the woman who was initially in the back of the police car with me, two other women, and finally someone I recognized: my friend J. who was arrested with me. They took each of us out of the silver handcuffs and placed us into the plastic zip ties that were so tight that even hours after taking them off, I still had marks on my wrists. I still did not see my brother or the others who were in my car.
Before we left, I asked one last officer if they knew where they were, and he said he did not know, and the van drove off. By this time, no one had told us what we did wrong, no one had read us our rights, no one had asked if we were okay, no one had asked why we turned down that street…No one had even asked for identification. Nothing.
We arrived at the police station on State Street in downtown Milwaukee, and the entrance was like from every movie I had ever seen. There was a long drive into the building, we each hopped out of the van, and we were taken into the building where officers were waiting to search us. If you are an introvert like myself, this can be the most uncomfortable experience of your life. Having a stranger touch every part of your body while other officers watch is so humiliating. Your body is supposed to be the one thing you have to yourself and that you have control over. In that moment and throughout that night, I had no control.
Finally, after being searched head to toe, we were taken into a waiting cell where we all waited to be acknowledged of the crimes we committed or even be spoken to. After over an hour, we were finally released. That is when an officer finally told me what I had been arrested for. After all that time, they decided to arrest and charge me with disorderly conduct, which, by definition, means, “Police may use a disorderly conduct charge to keep the peace when people are behaving in a disruptive manner to themselves or others, but otherwise present no danger.” This in no way, shape, or form fit our actions.
The officer who released me stated that they were doing me a favor by giving me a cheaper ticket, that it is not as high as the curfew ticket. Although, we gave the police no reason to spike my tires, point guns in our faces, or handcuff us, all of which led to me having anxiety and panic attacks through which no officer checked on my wellness.
I am saddened because this disorderly conduct charge may be attached to my name as I near the end of college and look to start my career. When people wonder why there is a lack of trust between the police and the people, my story shines light on just one example of the fear that they focus on instilling, rather than the service and protection they swear to provide us. I felt it was important to share my experience because I refuse to be silenced. I am fortunate enough to be able to tell my side of the story, unlike so many others who came before me. We must always remember that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said. The people and systems who are supposed to serve and protect continue to allow for an imbalance of justice. Because the courts continue to only protect police officers, and not the people who the officers have sworn to protect, we will continue to march, rally, and organize until we see the changes that we protest for.
Monday night at 9 p.m. on Water Street, in Milwaukee Wisconsin, me and my four cousins were stopped by spikes to the tires and arrested at gun point for curfew violation. During the arrest we (the females) were told we were going to be kept together to go to a district with only females while our male cousin was going to be sent to a district with strictly males. We were all separated and only two of us females were put together and taken to District 2. When we arrived we were detained with over 30 more females and weren’t given food or water for hours after each of us were begging for a drink or snack. After 7 or 8 hours of being handcuffed and detained, the police started handing out water bottles that two of the women arrested were handing out to protesters before they were picked up. It was several of us pregnant women asking for snacks or something to eat after several hours had gone by with us getting no food at all. We were told that we were going to be released after we were booked but we were really being held in cells for two more hours until cells got full and they were forced to release us 10 hours after our arrest.
I was arrested.
I was arrested violently. I was pushed to the ground and arrested with my hands behind my back and guns pointed at my face. My boyfriend and good friend, both of whom are men of color were also pushed to the ground with guns in their faces and not a single right was read to us.
To emphasize my point, the three of us weren’t anywhere NEAR a protest. We had heard screaming and calls for help and sirens down the street and knowing that people we all loved and cared about could be in danger, we decided to suit up and brace ourselves to offer medical supplies and a place to stay for anyone that was hurt by the awful acts of brutality by police that we had been witnessing for the past couple nights. For the past year Brady Street had been my home. It was where I went to get a latte at Rochambo and tell jokes and draw pictures with friends and family alike. But last night, it was the most unfamiliar place I had ever been to.
As we were making our way back down the street to go into our house that was less than 15 feet away, we were ambushed by an all-black cop car taking us from our left flank. We knew we were caught but we didn’t expect to be in trouble for being right outside our own home, the same home my boyfriend had for the past five years without a single problem. Four cops come out with guns in their hands and ready to shoot. It was in that instant I felt that my life was over. Everything I had dreamed or ever wanted was out of my reach. I would never perform on Broadway. I would never move back to NYC. I would never get married or raise a family with the man I love, even if I was to not get shot, he still could have, and that dream would still be out the window in a blink of an eye. Without a second thought, a person—another HUMAN could decide that my dreams were unattainable and take my boyfriend away from me for the rest of my life; however long that could be since I have no clue how I could recover since he is my lifeline and has my soul.
In an instant our lives could be deemed worthless only because of a curfew that was haphazardly placed on a day to day basis; and for a moment, we were deemed as worthless. In total there were well over 50 police officers all in squad cars and even the SWAT team pulled up to the scene. All for three peaceful people trying to get home from making sure no one was hurt. As they saw me lay helpless on the ground, crying with fluid draining from my nose, they pulled out their cellphones and took pictures and recorded. “Oh, this one’s going to Ashley” I heard one say and talk about how they were going to send it to a family member or friend.
While I was thinking these moments could be the last time I ever saw my boyfriend alive, these cops patted themselves on the back for a job well done and circle jerked to a young woman crying thinking that she would never get to say goodbye to the man she loved or to her mother and brother.
After being arrested and our possessions taken forcefully from us, we were separated. My friend and boyfriend in one car and I in another. There I was paraded around the city as I cried not for myself but for the fear of losing my loved ones. Finally I was taken to a dark area under one of the freeway bridges were about 60 other police officers were standing around waiting for something to happen. After about an hour of doing nothing, I was finally put in the back of a high security bus all by myself and three armed cops driving the bus.
I opened my eyes and I was suddenly in a new place with people I had never seen before. All the people being detained looked at me and suddenly I felt a sense of camaraderie I had never experienced before. I was finally able to stop crying as I realized almost all the people held here looked like they were just trying to get home. One by one I listened to their stories and I realized this was the most disgusting act of power I had ever seen. I felt violated and like I was suddenly non-human by the way we were being treated.
What I witnessed was illegal and breaches human decency on every level imaginable. There were two healthcare workers in scrubs being detained with me who were literally on their way home from their clinic that was 45 minutes away. They were arrested at about 9:45 p.m. Just from coming home from potentially saving lives. There was a new mother who just had a cesarean section only less than two weeks previously. There was an expecting mother with her arms tied behind her back who looked like she could pass out at any moment. The new mother actually did at one point pass out after throwing up and an ambulance was called about two hours later. TWO. HOURS. LATER.
Outside of the Milwaukee Section 2 prison facility I was stored in there were military personal with loaded machine guns who kept staring at us like we were nothing more than vermin on our way to be exterminated. As if we were bred for the slaughter of their injustice.
I was taken in at about 10:45 p.m. with a lot of my colleagues taken in at around 9. One by one, slowly they took us in the back to book us. I can not stress enough how unprofessional and how awful most of the cops were, with many of them admitting they had no idea what was going on or what they were doing. One cop taunted us asking if we learned our lesson. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ve learned to never trust cops again and that all you guys are pigs” I muttered, a stance I hadn’t taken before this night. It really was all or nothing, and if I was going to be treated with no regard, why should I care for a second about a cop’s life. They clearly didn’t care about ours. Mine. My friends’. My boyfriend’s. People I love and care about.
Slowly I watched my new friends disappear and finally taken to a holding cell for the information on them to be processed. I was going to be one of the last ones and the officers admitted they were taking a long time on purpose. I mean, they’re getting paid TAX DOLLARS to sit on their asses all day, so I suppose they were trying to milk out that few extra dollars by tormenting and traumatizing us.
For 14 hours I was never read my rights, never given anything to eat, never got to make a phone call, never told I had access to a lawyer, and only reluctantly given water because some of the people I was with threatened to sue. They told us because it was a temporary facility that it didn’t count as being normally arrested and so none of our rights were actually ours. Once again, everyone that was detained with me were ALL heading home. No exceptions. Some people were driving home when they had their tires blown out by police. One woman told me her boyfriend (who is black) was tased for stepping out of his car once his tires were blown up. It was only when she begged them not to shoot that they put down their weapons.
At about seven hours in, I was exhausted and sweating profoundly and I started to cry from anger and once again wondering if my friends were safe. I kept saying that over and over again. That I just want to know if they are okay. One girl stood up and yelled at a cop asking if they cared that I was sobbing, begging to make sure my boyfriend was alive. We were all met with shrugs and a woman officer (she was medium built and blonde with her colleague being another woman officer with dark brown hair with the last name of Sanchez) telling us that she didn’t care. The two woman officers just gossiped and looked at us with disgusting faces. Perhaps they were just doing their job. But that just speaks even more about what kind of job being a police officer really is. Apparently to do your job right you have to have no regard for human life and for the actual safe keeping of the city. As long as you get the arrest numbers, you’re golden to keep terrorizing marginalized communities and people.
There was one point in the night that I had a trans man and another non-binary individual (like me) being detained with the group. After he told them that he was trans, he was brought to the back to be berated and made sure that he REALLY was trans and not just trying to get attention. I don’t know what happened to him behind those closed doors since I never saw him again, but I can’t imagine it was anything short of horrific.
The rest of the night was a blur and I was labeled as a rioter and my possessions labeled as riot gear. This was my only offense. I had on a helmet and some padded protection on my body since if there WERE shots fired, I wanted to try to lessen the impact. The woman took out my piercings and my hair ties and bobby pins. I was left only wearing my oversized Star Wars T-shirt and some athletic leggings. In a cruel act of irony, one of the officers pointed to my shirt and said, “Looks like we got another fan.” I just stared at him and he said, “Smile, it’s a good thing.” This was already 10 hours in. I grunted and spat back, “One would think, right?” I’ve never talked back to a police officer in my life, but I was tired, angry, upset, and in pain. I was fighting for the Resistance. They were on the side of the Sith.
We were then placed in individual cells for holding. It was unsanitary and period blood filled the toilet I was given as well as urine from whoever was there before me. At this point I needed to pee and I told everyone to look away. They did as I, as safely as possible, hovered over the toilet seat to finish my business. I wasn’t given toilet paper or anything of the sort; instead I used my sock that had been on my foot this whole time. It was actually one of my boyfriend’s nice fuzzy black socks. Male cops were able to walk in and out as they pleased and could see females trying to relieve themselves. It was the most dehumanizing experience I have ever had.
Finally I could hear freedom ringing in my ears as I was approached and told that I was free to go. I tried to thank the officer but I couldn’t find the words after being treated so horribly. I was given my stuff back in a large bag and then thrusted out into the sunlight after being held for again, 14 hours (need I remind you this was all for just a ticket too). My eyes began to tear up as I realized I had no idea where I was or how I was going to get home. I looked around, and since we were thrown out the back, I didn’t see a single person. I cried as I picked up my ALMOST dead phone and saw my boyfriend tried to call me several times. For the first time the entire night, I was extremely relieved to see that he was alive and well. I saw his messages saying he and our friend were alright and got out and the only way they were alright was all thanks to the neighbor who saw the WHOLE thing and recorded it, too. He saved our lives. Full stop, HE is a hero. He was recording and on our side and trying to get us home safely. Our neighbor picked up my boyfriend and friend from Section 4 where the men were held. For those who don’t know, it’s right in a super dangerous neighborhood and we live on the East Side.
Once I called my boyfriend he told me he was out front and I shakily told him that I thought I was on the side of the building but I would head that way. Finally I saw him and he saw me and it was as if we were the only two people on the planet. Yes, it is just like in the movies when you have someone really love and care about you. He first waved to me and I hung up the phone to make my way towards him. He started running and then finally we were in each other’s arms hugging on for dear life. He placed his hands on my head and looked me up and down while saying that he was sorry over and over and over again. But I wasn’t even a tiny bit angry with him, I was the most relieved and content I had ever been in my entire 21 years of living. After our tear-filled reunion, I got the names of some of the other people that were with me and I gave them my contact information as well.
I have a lot to say…A lot more to say about what I felt and what I still feel. The $700 fine is almost nothing compared to the emotional trauma that I felt and went through. All for just being a decent human being and making sure people were alright from protests that were happening. We were arrested for caring and arrested for essentially the color of our skin. Well, not so much me, but it was the fact that I was with two males of color—the most gentle and kind males anyone could ever hope to encounter. I know it was this because I saw other white people walking around and they didn’t get arrested, just told to go home. My stance is now clear to me. There ARE no good cops. There never were. They hold up an institution of racism and fear. That same racism and fear that was so very real to me and not just a concept like you are likely to be reading about just now. Please know I am very angry and heartbroken, but we are safe and right now I’m just thanking my lucky stars that we weren’t slaughtered like George Floyd. It is a predicament that no one should have to experience and no one with a human heart should perpetuate.
On June 1st at 9:15 p.m. a friend of mine and I were walking down Milwaukee Ave. with a case of water and a box of granola bars. An unmarked police car pulled up and told my friend she was under arrest. I began filming it live on Instagram. The community watched with me as my friend was questioned over a case of water and box of granola bars. The police kept telling me to go home or I would be arrested too. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her with them—they weren’t even wearing masks. On my Instagram the last thing people saw was an officer yelling, “You’re coming, too,” and then charging at me and then my livestream goes dead.
We were then cuffed and put into a mobile jail. They didn’t take my name or check my ID, they just cuffed me, refusing to let me put my mask up. I was very concerned about being held in the tight space with other people and no ventilation because of the global pandemic. “Don’t believe everything you see on TV,” said the officer as he cuffed me, suggesting that the pandemic wasn’t real.
I was detained with 26-30 women in the garage of the 2nd District police station. We were handcuffed/zip-tied for 8-12 hours, many with their hands behind their back. My friend was handcuffed with her hands behind her back for 7 hours. We were constantly told to get closer to each other, there was no regard to social distancing. There was one bench women were handcuffed to and three chairs. There were, however, so many of us so most of us had to stand eventually sitting on the floor. We were without food or water (we eventually convinced our keepers to disperse the case of water we were arrested with, however they refused to disperse the box of granola bars and chips we had with us). There were several pregnant women. One woman had a C-section two weeks prior, and was experiencing abdominal pain, needed to breast pump, and was throwing up in a garbage can. “I’m just so hungry,” said another woman. Another woman who was 4 months pregnant was throwing up in a garbage can as well. The Sergeant Mcaleer (I believe) would come into the garage and eat pizza in front of us and smoke cigarettes. They slowly trickled us into the 16 individual cells they had at the 2nd District, taking our fingerprints and pictures and containing us for an additional 2-4 hours. I was released after 10 hours, many were kept 12 hours.
When I was released at 7 a.m. I posted on socials to call the 2nd District and demand they release the women still being held. People got on the phone and everyone was released by 10 a.m. We were all charged with curfew citations. Most women were not involved with the protest. They were just trying to get home, many getting their cars spiked, and arrested at gunpoint. Many had children who were waiting for them, family friends but we weren’t given a phone call. I think about how scared those families were. All of this for a curfew citation—a law we’ve never known in our entire lives that was made up out of fear less than 72 hours before they took us. To reiterate—the police held 32 women overnight, with no consideration of coronavirus, no food, no phone call, and no regard to the women that were pregnant and sick, no regard to any of us. All because people are fighting against police brutality. More police brutality is not the solution to the community expressing their issues with police brutality.