Following days of violent protests in Milwaukee, Governor Scott Walker says the most important role of government in the city right now is to protect the safety of the public.
“If you don’t have public safety, you don’t have anything else,” Walker told reporters after a meeting with Milwaukee area law enforcement on Monday evening. “If people can’t live in their communities and their neighborhoods without fear, everything else is kind of irrelevant.”
Demonstrators have been taking to the streets since Saturday night, after a Milwaukee police officer fatally shot an armed black man in the city’s Sherman Park neighborhood. Police have said 23-year-old Sylville Smith was turning towards the officer with a gun in his hand at the time of the shooting. The protests have resulted in multiple injuries and numerous incidents of property damage, including burned buildings and rocks thrown at police squad cars.
Police and the Mayor Tom Barrett have called for the Department of Justice, which is handling the investigation of the shooting, to release footage from the officer’s body camera. Walker on Monday said the DOJ should follow the law and not impeded its ability to conduct a thorough investigation. “We don’t want to rush their investigation, the law is important to have an independent review.”
Mayor Barrett on Monday instituted a curfew for anyone 17 and younger that was set to take effect at 10pm. Walker said his “hope and prayer” for the city is that things will calm down.
Walker also responded to critics who have claimed economic conditions in Milwaukee’s black community have helped fuel some of the violence in recent days. The governor says those concerns are ones he has been working with lawmakers from the city to address, through actions such as job training programs.
Walker said he plans to continue those discussions once safety is restored. “If you want to address poverty, if you want to address living conditions, you want to address housing – all of those things are legitimate issues…but if you’ve got neighborhoods where businesses are burnt down, where people are afraid to live, it’s only going to make those problems more difficult.”