Unheard Black Voices: Milwaukee’s Sex Trafficking problem is another area of police neglect
The media world is constantly on fire with scandalous tales of people like the late billionaire financier sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein, and more recently, the widespread protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd have garnered nonstop attention.
However, at the intersection of sexual violence near the heart of power, and police reform/abolition, is a little big story that has only been covered by local news as of now. If you turn on CNN I’m sure you’ll get analysis of the president’s latest tweets, instead of the horror that broke to the surface of Milwaukee on June 23.
For those of us not currently in Milwaukee, including myself, last day came as an incredible shock. According to sources following the case on social media, it seems that a coalition of community members uncovered a set of homes at 40th & Lloyd that were trafficking missing black children, apparently at the behest of both the church, local police, and registered sex offenders.
This strange story does not end or begin there. Something truly sinister is happening, and this is only a fragment. The massive story begins with an unfortunately common incident, a young black child went missing on Sunday, June 21. This was not the first, nor was this an isolated incident, as other families began to suspect that someone was behind this.
According to a tweet by someone following the case, the parents had contacted authorities who had stonewalled, saying that the child was, “not endangered.” As a result, no amber alert was ever issued for what became two children missing. On Tuesday, June 23, the mother of one of the missing girls was able to ping the cellphone of one of the missing girls to a two story townhouse in Milwaukee. The mother, along with several others went to the property, in addition to calling police – who ignored them for 10 hours.
An attempt at entry was made, and someone from within the house shot at the group, no injuries were reported. The shots got a quicker response than the phone call, and police arrived at the scene. The people within the home were taken into custody. Immediately after, the report from people on the ground starts to diverge from the police and media narrative.
After the arrests were made, a crowd began to form at 40th & Lloyd, and cops began to circle the original location, as well as a second location that was deemed to be connected. Many social media posts and livestreams began to spring up. During this time, a search party of people recovered the two girls from the location. Police on the scene, claimed to have not seen any children during their search, something that was flat out untrue.
The pictures and videos that were recovered by the search party were heartbreaking. While inside, several unknown people were taken into custody anonymously via tarps and placed into an unmarked van. Police claimed that the owner of the property escaped, and yet people on the ground claimed that he had fled to the van parked on the second property.
Sometime after, the protesters noticed a fire in the second location as well as in the van. While police claim that the protesters started the fire, people on the ground had not yet entered the van or the second property, where police were first on the scene. In an attempt to salvage evidence, people entered the home, and found several documents already burned near the center of the blaze.
Some papers were recovered, including what was allegedly – since the document has not been released – a schedule of what times the girls were solicited out, and the name of someone who was connected to the operation. It is believed that the name was of the property owner, Mike Bartsch, a disaster recovery specialist who had been working as a spiritual leader for children at local youth camps.
This person serves as a senior board member of the group, and has been working with them as far back as 2014, though he does have other ties to local Lutheran groups. Another identity recovered was the name of Roderick Bowie, a registered sex offender, who had apparently been in repeated contact with the trafficked people. There were 20 missing children suspected of having been sent through that home, according to people familiar with the area.
One girl was found nearby in October, and police had apparently refused to investigate further out of a lack of evidence – even though bloody clothes had been found in the area. The home has been politely scrubbed by their former realtor in an attempt to further obfuscate this tangled web, though online archives were available.
A short time later, riot cops came to the location and began attacking people who were stationed outside this area. Despite overwhelming evidence that there was a trafficking organization, the police shot rubber bullets and tear gas at the people attempting to investigate.
Due to the infinite compassion of the people there, no officers were harmed, and firefighters began to put out the blaze as people drew back. Finally, the media began to arrive with a helicopter to survey the area. The first write up about the story to appear online came from the local ABC station. That article was only 18 sentences long and repeated nearly verbatim what the police had said.
For the 20 or more Black children, they got less than a sentence each for their stories. Their names and families will be plastered all over local news forever, and yet not a single breath was given to the people behind the trafficking operation. Out of respect for the little Black girls whose lives will be forever changed by this ordeal in numerous ways, I refuse to print their names to make them part of the spectacle.
As for the Milwaukee PD, their first media soundbite was that “[We] have not confirmed that the girls were found because they said they have not been contacted.” Police Chief Alfonso Morales claimed that no evidence of trafficking had been found, and that the “unruly mob” will be investigated as well.
In a theater world where Black bodies murdered by police are constantly on display, this brief peepshow into the dark underbelly of a trauma cabaret shows that police are – at best – not on the side of the communities they claim to protect. They may also be actively serving interests directly against the towns that their badges empower them to protect.