It’s been a busy week for the Milwaukee Police Department. On Monday, Urban Milwaukee reported that MPD was seeking 50,000 bottles of Gatorade, 4,000-pound concrete barriers, and a tear gas-delivering battering ram for the massively diminished Democratic National Convention. On Tuesday, MPD Chief Alfonso Morales opened himself to a discussion of “defunding” the police by listing a bunch of reasons why “defunding” the police would lead to chaos. Earlier today, Morales’ six-month performance review—scheduled for tomorrow—was canceled.
Which got us thinking about last month, when MPD extolled the life-preserving virtues of tear gas and rubber bullets. Oh, and warned folks that if they didn’t like those “less-lethal munitions,” police could just go back to the days of beating and shooting you.
The incident in question happened during a June 5 meeting of the Public Safety and Health Committee. Milwaukee police were fresh off of firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters during a June 2 protest march, and the Public Safety and Health Committee wanted answers. That’s when MPD Assistant Chief Michael Brunson gave this fun little history lesson:
So now I want to talk a little bit about the Major Incident Response Team […] to give you a little bit of history on why the Major Incident Response Team was created, not only in Milwaukee, but around the country. If any of you are students of history, and some of you might have been around during that period of time in the ’60s, when you saw incidents of civil disorder throughout the country. You will know, and this city itself experienced that in 1967. Go back and look at some of the situations and the death toll from those riots that occurred in our country during the ’60s and the ’70s, and you will see double-digit deaths of citizens during those incidents. In our city alone, in 1967, there were four people killed, there were 100 that were injured, and there were 1,740 arrests during that period of time. In Watts, California, 1965, 34 killed. Why? Why such a high body count during that period of time?
Well, I’ll tell you why. Because law enforcement options at those times were a handgun and a billy club. There was no coordinated effort to preserve life during those incidents. The MIRT unit was created to use the minimal amount of force to get the situation under control. Everybody’s talking about less-lethal munitions and smoke and tear gas. Those tools are meant to preserve life. I will say our MIRT unit has been in existence for 15 years. No citizen has sustained any significant injury or been killed by a MIRT unit during deployments. That’s why those units were created.
If we’re talking about the abuse of less-lethal munitions and tear gas, then that’s something that we can have a discussion about. But overall, saying that these […] need to be removed, be careful when you say that. Do you want to go back to the time when officers had an option of a handgun and a billy club […] and that is it? I think that is misguided.
Here’s the full video of Brunson’s remarks: