Dozens of protesters marched through the streets of Milwaukee’s near north side on Sunday chanting, “Stop the violence with peace and love,” as part of the ninth annual Put the Guns Down Festival.
Hundreds gathered throughout the afternoon at King Park, near N. 15th and W. Vliet streets, to call for an end to the violence that many said is pulling apart their community and threatening their children’s lives and futures.
“Seven thousand black males die in homicides every year in the United States,” said Muhibb Dyer, 38, of the Wisconsin Chapter of the League of Young Voters, which sponsors the annual event. “This is a critical issue of our time, and we have to do more as a society to address it.”
Locally, August was one of the most violent months in recent memory, according to Milwaukee police, with eight people killed and nearly two dozen injured in the first week alone.
The city has had 66 homicides so far this year. The August spike in violence comes after a 19% increase in nonfatal shootings in June and July, compared with the same two months in 2012.
For many at the festival, gun violence has touched them personally. They hear shots fired in their neighborhoods at night and wake up wondering whose funeral they’ll attend today. Parents and grandparents are afraid to let their children play outside or walk to a nearby park.
Before the parade, marchers gathered in a circle and one by one called out the names of loved ones who have been killed by gun violence. There were nearly 30 in all.
Susana Lamon of Milwaukee was at the park with her 3-year-old son, Deandree Ellerson Jr.
“His father was murdered before he was born,” she said of Deandree Ellerson Sr. Lamon said he was 27 when he was killed.
“He was sitting in a vehicle and was shot in the back of the head,” she said. “They said it might have been an accident or a robbery. They never caught anybody.
“Every day is bittersweet.”
The causes of the violence, community members said, are myriad, from drugs and the lack of jobs to a society that punishes parents for disciplining their children. More must be done, they insist, to improve education, create family-supporting jobs and chart a path back into society for young people who get into trouble.
“It’s as basic as love,” Dyer said. He thinks the black-on-black violence that plagues central cities and the mass school shootings that often are carried out by white gunmen in suburbs around the country are symptoms of the same disease.
“I think it’s a hyper-materialism that focuses on possessions and not on human beings and what we can do to build character and families, and educate every child so they can still have an American dream,” he said.
Janette Herrera, a teacher and longtime civil rights activist who was working the hamburger grills at the festival, pointed out many of the young people at the park. Several, she noted, are active in the young voters organization or in nonprofit and after-school groups that do public service to better their communities.
“When they say these young people don’t amount to nothing, that’s such a small percent,” said Herrera, who just returned from Washington, D.C., where she attended the event marking the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
“There are so many out there doing good things … and we need to show them some support,” she said.