WASHINGTON: The US state of Wisconsin activated its National Guard on Sunday to help maintain order after a fatal shooting by police sparked a night of angry protests and arson in the city of Milwaukee.
While an uneasy calm had returned to the affected neighborhood by Sunday afternoon, Mayor Tom Barrett said that the city still faced “a very volatile situation.”
“One hundred twenty-five members of the national guard are on their way to Milwaukee as we speak,” he confirmed in a news briefing Sunday afternoon.
But he said the uniformed troops, who were activated by the state’s governor, would not be deployed unless the city’s police chief, Edward Flynn, decided they were needed.
Violence broke out overnight as angry crowds took to the streets, throwing rocks and torching buildings in protest over the shooting.
The violence in the Midwestern city comes after several police officers have been targeted and shot dead across the nation in recent weeks — including five in Dallas — following an outcry over the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police.
However Barrett reiterated Sunday that the individual shot by police — a 23-year-old local man named Sylville Smith — had been holding a gun in his hand “without question.”
The shooting occurred after two police officers stopped a car Saturday and two suspects inside, including Smith, had fled on foot, police said.
“During the foot pursuit, one officer shot one suspect, armed with a semiautomatic handgun” and the suspect then died at the scene, the Milwaukee Police Department said in a statement.
Flynn said Smith had ignored an order to drop his weapon and that the entire incident lasted no more than 25 seconds.
Police said earlier that the handgun he was carrying had been stolen during a burglary in March.
The officer who fired on Smith was black, Flynn said, adding that the policeman now feared for his safety and was staying with relatives out of town.
The officer, whom he would not name, has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard in such situations.
Overnight, as police were trying to disperse the crowd of at least 200 protesters, individuals attending the rally fired dozens of shots, apparently in the air, authorities said.
But Barrett said that “police officers did not fire a single shot.”
One officer was taken to the hospital after being hit in the head by a brick thrown through a squad car window. Protesters also broke the windows of an unoccupied squad car and torched another, police said.
The mayor said four officers had been taken to the hospital, but all had been released.
Flynn said one 16-year-old female had been shot — possibly by a stray bullet — and suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
He said 17 arrests had been made overnight, and that all of those arrested had prior criminal records.
Six businesses were set on fire, including a BP gas station and auto parts store that were destroyed, he added.
“There are a lot of really, really good people who live in this area… who can’t stand this violence and they want order restored,” Barrett told reporters, as he pleaded for calm.
He praised what he said were the scores of local people who came to the neighborhood Sunday to help clean up.
The United States has been on edge for weeks following shootings targeting police officers in several cities, among them Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Those attacks followed anger among the black community over the fatal shooting of African American suspects by white police in Minnesota and Louisiana.
In Milwaukee, local official Khalif Rainey, who represents the area where the disturbances took place, called the violence a “warning cry.”
“This entire community has sat back and witnessed how Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has become the worst place to live for African-Americans in the entire country,” he was quoted as saying. AFP