After 19 years, much has been said about what happened on September 11, 2001, and even more about the turbulent legacy that followed. The anniversary in 2020 comes at a time unlike any before.

First responders face criticism over systemic racism from the public, veterans are divided among themselves over disparaging comments made by the sitting president, and a pandemic has crippled the economy and claimed almost 200,000 lives. The daily body count is twice the total lost on 9/11.

The unity that Americans felt in 2001 when the nation was attacked cannot be found now. Instead, Americans attack each other over race and politics. Milwaukee families take sides over ideology and refuse to speak. Individuals grapple with being financially and emotionally overwhelmed, with no relief in sight as social stability unravels.

Under these environmental conditions, City and County leaders gathered at the War Memorial Center along the shores of Lake Michigan. The tradition this year was altered due to health concerns from the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, the ceremony was closed to the general public, streamed by live video, and conducted under social distancing guidelines.

Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive David Crowley hosted the memorial “Milwaukee County Remembers,” with an introduction by Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, and a roll call of names by Dan Buttery, President and CEO of the War Memorial Center.

Participants included Cassandra Libal, Director, Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management; Chief Michael Brunson, Milwaukee Police Department; Sheriff Earnell Lucas, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department; Chief Deputy Denita Ball, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department; and Chief Mark Rohlfing, Milwaukee Fire Department.

Of the words offered to memorialize the lost, encourage those who remember, and inspire the generations born after that tragic day, County Executive Crowley’s speech encapsulated the moment and all the difficulties facing Milwaukee and the nation.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley’s Statement in Remembrance of September 11th

“Like many Americans, the sights, sounds, and feelings I experienced on September 11 are indelibly etched in my memory. I’ll always remember where I was when I heard the news of the horrific acts of terrorism that would change our nation forever. Today, we remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost, the survivors and surviving family members, the first responders and other heroes who responded on that fateful Tuesday. We also remember the strength and resilience Americans showed when we came together in a time of tragedy.

Ultimately, the fear that gripped us on that day did not win, and it was the optimistic spirit of the American people that moved us forward. 19 years later, we find ourselves trying to move forward in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis we face today is a reminder that keeping our residents healthy is an integral part of public safety and I’m proud of the work Milwaukee County has done to respond the pandemic and keep our residents safe.

Earlier this year, we created a unified emergency operations center to respond to the public health crisis and serve as the cooperative body amongst the 19 separate municipalities in the county. Our Office of Emergency Management was designed to lead in this way, turning four separate, siloed divisions of county government into one, centralized department –paving the way for the mission-critical coordinated radio and 9-1-1 response systems we rely on today.

Even with all we’ve done to prepare for and respond to the pandemic, the lessons of September 11th show us that unity is one of the strongest weapons in our arsenal. We will never forget the lives lost on that day, and in these unprecedented times we remember how our nation came together in the wake of tragedy to re-build what was destroyed. Drawing on that strength and resolve is how we will beat fear once again and build our county back better than it was before.”

When we sow seeds of division, hatred, and small-mindedness, we fall. When we sow seeds of love, hope, and optimism, we soar. In an unprecedented year, I hope that this anniversary will reawaken our responsibility to stand together, show compassion for our neighbors and, in the face of the challenges that loom, remain united in our desire for peace, freedom, and equality for all.”