The NAACP Milwaukee Branch shares the concerns of the family of Derek Williams about the tragic manner in which he died on July 6, 2011 on the back seat of a Milwaukee Police Department squad car. After viewing this awful and dreadful video, one line in the accompanying Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper article, quoting Werner U. Spitz, a forensic pathologist and one of the nation’s leading experts on death investigation, sums up what is apparent: “If authorities would have taken Williams seriously and gotten him oxygen quickly, he could have survived.”
This is only the most recent incident in which Milwaukee citizens, particularly young African American or Latino males and their families, are treated in a disrespectful and inappropriate manner by law enforcement. We, the community, have called upon the Department itself (meaning the Chief), the Fire and Police Commission, and the Mayor to address and stop these practices. We have requested the District Attorney to bring appropriate charges and we have petitioned the U.S. Attorney to investigate these practices. All of the meeting and talking has been to “no avail.” The response has consistently been “nothing wrong was done” and “new training and procedures will be instituted.” We believe the community has been very patient. How many other young African American men must be improperly strip-searched or must expire in the back of a squad car before the problems will be addressed, if ever?
We need action. If local officials are not prepared to act, we need outside authorities to come in and investigate, namely the United States Department of Justice.
This should not be swept under the carpet. It is time for a spotlight to shine on these actions until they are corrected.
We appreciate the persistence of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its reporters and their efforts in obtaining this information and video, and in making it available to the medical examiner and to the public.
While the levels of crime in the community must be addressed as a separate matter, it cannot be emphasized enough that it is imperative that the police force be held accountable for its interactions with the community.
James H. Hall, Jr.
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