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Jack Davidson: An open letter to Milwaukee law enforcement on the “kettling” of peaceful protesters

Thugs. Bullies. Weasels. Morons. Cowards. This is an open letter to “the Police.”

Specifically the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, and Wisconsin National Guard, regarding the “kettling” of protesters on Tuesday morning, June 2, but also to police in general regarding how we deal with civil unrest. I’m going to take some heat for this, and it has some harsh words, but I think I have to send it. Please read. Share if you like. Don’t shoot.

My name is Jack Davidson. I am a 54-year-old white male resident of Milwaukee. I’m self-employed, I own a house, have a family. I’m a regular middle-aged Dad. Not successful, but I’m half-successful. I recognize that I have unearned privilege, but I’ve also earned a lot of what I have: I studied hard, did well in school, I work hard, I stay within the law, I try to raise a good family. I also try to give back in small ways to my community because I believe we make the community that we want to live in. I am a law and order American.

I grew up in De Pere, WI, a law and order town. My father was a college teacher, an ex-Marine and a pretty strict disciplinarian with our big, Catholic family. De Pere itself was pretty locked down, the local joke was that the De Pere Police would pull you over for doing 26 in 25mph zone. But it was actually true, it happened to me and everyone I knew. But the police would usually let you off with a warning, and if you had two warnings they gave you a ticket — for 1 mile over the speed limit! If you got a ticket like that, of course you felt injustice was done, but in fact it was fair and equitable: the punishment fit the crime – they didn’t mark it up to 6 miles over simply so the judge wouldn’t throw it out, and they didn’t turn every stop into a “stop and frisk” or “search and seize.” One mile over was certainly ridiculous, but as oppressive as it might sound, it was a way to manage control, reduce risk and keep the peace. It was applied equally and it worked pretty well.

I’m not saying everything was perfect. The City Detective (I won’t use his name, was a a racist. We heard stories about things he said privately, and publicly he would always slow-roll past any group with black or brown or Hmong kids in it, giving us special attention and letting us know we were being watched. I am not black or brown, but as a white brother to a beautiful and funny and amazing black sister, and semi-regularly hosting kids from a largely black parish in Chicago, I had first-hand experience that he always did that to the black kids and didn’t do it if it was a group of all white kids. But to be fair to the racist detective, no matter what he thought in his head, he kept his behavior in check.

So, I grew up believing in law and order, that the world was growing more inclusive, that the police were basically good, and that any racist and overtly abusive police incidents — Rodney King, Frank Jude, Dontre Hamilton, and so on up to George Floyd — were the result of a few bad cops. Maybe the system was flawed and overly protective of the bad actors, but all it needed was some tweaks, some “reform.”

But you, through your collective actions, have changed my mind. Should I say thank you?

What I’m going to describe is just the tip of the iceberg, just one minor event. But like all the others in Milwaukee this week, it proves that you cannot be trusted “to Protect and Serve.”

On Monday night, I watched the live feed of protesters peacefully demonstrating up Oakland, past Capital, through Shorewood and into Whitefish Bay. I saw the police managing control, establishing safety and even creating a safe space for people to protest. I saw gestures of kindness from the police towards the protesters and by the protesters towards the police. I saw water bottles offered in both directions. I watched until the group safely marched to Silver Spring and Port Washington Road and then turned south to head home. I went to bed that night heartened that something positive and good could come out of this tragedy. I guess you fooled me.

When I woke the next morning to discover what you did next, my heart not only broke, so did any faith I had in modern policing. And I still don’t understand the intention behind what you did, or how that relates to your mission, “to Protect and Serve.”

In the field of mental health, in education, in social work, even in goddam casino security – in every crisis prevention scenario I can think of – the objective in a crisis is to manage control, de-escalate tension, reduce risk and re-establish communications. On Monday night, you, the combined police forces, had already established and managed control throughout the evening. You had done an amazing job of de-escalation. You had severely minimized risk and even started to change attitudes of the protesters: some were saying, “These cops are cool”, “They’re giving us water”, “One of them even said ‘Black Lives Matter’,” etc. Maybe this was thanks to the cool heads and leadership of the Shorewood, Whitefish Bay and Fox Point Police. Or maybe it was all a ruse. I don’t know. You tell me.

But when the group was down to a fraction of its size and had nearly lost all steam, and were in fact heading home — by all accounts the end of a peaceful night aside from one broken windshield and someone doing donuts on a lawn. Even the Facebook feeds that i know the police were watching verified this — someone in charge, some “very stable genius” had the brilliant idea to “kettle” the remaining protesters—who were mostly young and mostly black and brown— and then proceed to shoot teargas at them before even attempting to make arrests. THUGS.

For those reading who don’t know, kettling is a military technique in which “enemy combatants” are encircled, boxed in, into a smaller and smaller space from which they can’t retreat or escape. In American protests it’s often accompanied by police forces taking advantage of the fact that protesters can’t retreat to inflict maximum harm with teargas, batons, and other weapons for an extended period before doing mass arrests.

To be clear, this is not a dispersement technique, it’s the complete opposite – it’s a technique of intense aggression. And Monday night/Tuesday morning it was not used in good faith to assert control over an out-of-control situation. It was used to exact retribution for carrying signs and chanting words, and the retribution was meted with vastly disproportionate violence, and with the intention of cutting off everyone in the kettle from medics, aid, food, water, and of course, the ability to leave.

So why treat the protesters as “enemy combatants?” They are not the enemy and they were not combative. Why kettle the protesters if your intention was to get them to disperse? Why gas them once you have them kettled — you could simply just arrest them? The only conclusion I can make is you weren’t intending to keep the peace, you weren’t trying to disperse them, you weren’t even trying simply to arrest them. No, you wanted to “teach them a lesson.” Like Drunk- Dad smacking his kid for talking back. Bullies.

This is NOT the behavior of a group that Protects and Serves. This is NOT the behavior of a group interested in crisis prevention or de-escalation. This is the behavior of a pack of wolves hanging back, circling and waiting for the moment to wear down and isolate individuals before coming in for the kill.

Pack of wolves? I mean pack of weasels — because even wolves don’t wait until no one is looking. And that is exactly what you did that night—you put on a good show for residents of Shorewood and Whitefish Bay, you put on a great performance for the news cameras and anyone following the live feeds, and as soon as no one was looking—even though protesters were peaceful and heading home—you attacked. Weasels.

And even if you can justify that decision for tactical reasons—wear them down, isolate, feign permission, then attack, great tactics. It’s a stupid move strategically. You took a situation where violence was nil, where the threat was contained, where peace was established, and where people and property were protected, even where opposite factions were starting to communicate! And you said, “Screw that! Let’s fuck shit up! Let’s spank some kids for talking back, let’s put the hurt on some black folk for gettin’ “uppity,” let’s punish some Americans for even daring to think that the First Amendment applies to them!” You took a situation that was 100% under control and deliberately escalated it. Did it look bigger for a minute? You not only used excessive force, it was completely and utterly unnecessary force, and it put more people at risk. MORONS.

But I’m not insulting the entire combined forces, hey, you were “just following orders.” The escalation of aggression was the decision of a small group of weasels, perhaps just one weasel, hiding, cowering in the Command Center while deciding to sabotage a peaceful situation, to attack the people he’s pledged to Protect and Serve, and in the process to put the men and women under his charge into more danger by escalating the situation. Cowards.

In the words of my Dad, the ex-Marine, “What were you thinking? What were you thinking? That’s right! You weren’t thinking!”

Additionally, in the process you proved—to me, a Law and Order American, and I hope to everyone who reads this—that you cannot be trusted with this power, you cannot be trusted with these guns, you cannot be trusted to keep the peace. You shot at US! You shot at OUR KIDS! You have turned allies into enemies because your actions prove that you’re out of control, and in fact, unwilling to be controlled.

And this is my point: we don’t need you. “Oh, but who’s going to keep the peace?” Good question. And I honestly don’t know the answer, but no one’s doing it now. You’re not actually keeping the peace, you’re instigating and escalating violence. You’re making tense situations much, much worse. You can’t even tell the difference between protesters, rioters and looters! Here’s a hint, I know it’s real hard but use your thinker, clench your brain cheeks, and examine the context clues: looters are people who are looting, rioters are people who are rioting, and protesters, well, they’re the peaceful black, brown, and white kids that you shoot at for carrying signs and saying words that upset you.

You’re incompetent. In May, the Milwaukee homicide rate was up 96 percent over last year (49/25). You seem incapable of stopping drivers from going 65mph+ in a 30 zone — in the bike lane, no less. Or from blowing through red lights at intersections—both genuinely dangerous situations. I guess traffic laws don’t apply anymore. But you’re perfectly capable and willing to sit in tanks and shoot teargas at peaceful, unarmed civilians—again, because they were holding signs and chanting slogans. How brave. How noble. Way to put it on the line for us. Thank you for your service.

You have a long-standing pattern of escalating situations instead of de-escalating them, increasing discord and regularly using excessive force: whether it’s turning a traffic stop into search and seizure, or shooting a mentally ill man for sleeping on a park bench (Dontre Hamilton), or strangling a man to death for trying to pass a fake $20 (George Floyd), or kettling and gassing kids for chanting slogans (the incident I’m writing about) on June 2, shooting rubber bullets and flashbangs at the peaceful protesters by MATC, all because someone supposedly threw a plastic water bottle. Seriously? You are in armored tanks and full protection riot gear. And a plastic water bottle is a threat?

Maybe you don’t need more armor, maybe you need thicker skin — or a different job. And don’t get me started on the smoke bomb, that supposed “Molotov cocktail” that you conveniently found 38 minutes AFTER you began shooting. Quick thinking. Good cover. Nothing in that story holds water. I don’t even think Fox6 believes it.

You have too much power, and no one is checking you. You’re not even policing yourselves— George Floyd wouldn’t even be a thing unless some passersby had caught it on camera! Don’t forget that those officers didn’t want that videotaped either. That’s why you’re regularly jamming the live feeds from protesters – you don’t want anyone else checking you. But also see the 130+ verified instances in the last week where police around the country fired directly and intentionally at Journalists, News Crews, Photographers, and Videographers.

Here’s another clue, this one’s from my Mom: if you’re ashamed to have people see what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Maybe it’s a good sign that you still have some sense of shame for your actions? Or maybe, like the bully who’s giving a pounding to one kid for being different, he’s going to pound anyone else if they tattle. I’m guessing it’s the latter.

But finally, you’ve seriously lost control. No, not of the protest situation — the protesters are doing a great job of controlling themselves, despite your daily fears. Frank Nitty is my new superhero, I want to give that guy a cape. Anyone can lead a march, but I can’t believe the amount of discipline and control he and his crew can exert over an untrained, amorphous mob. You really ought to take notes. No, you’ve lost control of yourselves. This situation is beyond unacceptable, yet was completely preventable. You should not and cannot be permitted to shoot even rubber bullets or teargas or any other chemical weapons or employ any other military tactics against us, against our kids, against any unarmed civilians — even if they are breaking curfew and chanting slogans that hurt your feelings.

Somehow — because of idiocy or testosterone — you have managed to turn literally every Milwaukee demonstration against police brutality into a demonstration of police brutality. Chew on that. Chew on that a long time. Despite all your best intentions and military training, it only takes one plastic water bottle to make you reveal what you truly are, the monsters you’ve become.

I’m scared of you. I truly am. I’m shaking as I write this. You have the legal authority to use deadly force against me and my family, and you have the implicit ability to harass me endlessly. I fully expect repercussions from this letter—special attention, slow rolling past the house, extra “headlight out” stops, towing my car, and general harassment for years to come. But the fact that I fear you this much, and that you can do those things with impunity means that you have way too much power. I’m afraid of you and I’m a privileged, middle-age white male! I can only imagine the fear I’d feel as a young person of color.

But I don’t have to imagine, my aforementioned little sister is also in Milwaukee, with two teenage boys. And every time I speak to her, I hear an intense fear. She has been extremely restrictive of her sons joining any protests because she doesn’t trust you to “protect and serve.” And she fears, rightly as I’ve seen, that they will be unfairly attacked — just for being brown-skinned kids who hold signs and chant slogans. You’ve shown your colors. But don’t take that as a victory. For what it’s worth, she and her men have joined the march tonight. Whatever you’re intending, it’s having the opposite effect.

  • I demand a stop to “kettling,” and to the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against unarmed citizens for any reason.
  • I demand the resignation or firing of whoever made the call to kettle and gas the protestors Tuesday morning.
  • I demand accountability from the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff Department, and whoever oversees the Wisconsin National Guard.
  • I demand that we defund the MPD and take away their battle gear, that we demilitarize our streets and stop accepting federal surplus of military weapons.
  • I demand that we take 25 percent of the budgets of the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, and State Patrol and shift the money to public health equity efforts focused on black and brown residents.
  • I demand that we declare racism a statewide emergency.
  • I demand the MPD stop treating protesters as “enemy combatants.”
  • I demand a real investigation into the use of force on peaceful citizens in the above incident and every other one from every single day of these protests.
  • I demand that those officers who fired on civilians be fired from the force. (Why stick it out in a job you obviously hate? Go get one that fits your skillset at maybe Blackwater or Haliburton, perhaps shooting children in Syria or Palestine.)
  • I demand that Mayor Tom Barrett, Griselda Aldrete, and the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission hold accountable every single person involved in shooting at, or making the decision to shoot at unarmed civilians.

Instilling fear is not policing, it’s even more reason you need to be stopped. And as much as I still believe in “law and order,” you are definitely not promoting it. You are fomenting and inciting the exact opposite. And you’re turning allies like me and my family against you. Thugs. Bullies. Weasels. Morons. Cowards. We don’t want you here: you don’t keep us safe.

Photographer Dan Barrett put together a chronology of events regarding the June 2 incident on 6th Street, involving peaceful protesters and members of the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). His research and first-hand account was organized to offer clarification to the public about what happened. The visuals and timeline shows events leading up to the decision that declared the protest an “unlawful assembly,” and the corresponding use of force deployed to disband what MPD has acknowledged was “a peaceful protest.”

Barrett’s pictures are used here with permission to support the observations and opinion of Jack Davidson. They clearly show that the protestor was walking away – with his back to the officer – when suddenly he was tackled to the ground from behind. All the documentation can be found at North 6th Street and McKinley Avenue.

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