A group of frustrated Milwaukee residents took matters into their owns hands on Tuesday in an effort that is now being labeled as “vigilantism” by local law enforcement.
The story began after the community rallied around two Black missing Milwaukee teens who were last seen on Sunday. According to WISN, the missing teens, Gilbreana Perkins, 13, and Tydrianna Perkins, 15, were eventually located by police and family members.
Prior to their discovery, a crowd of community members, demonstrators and activists, gathered in front of a reported vacant home located near the 2100 block of North 40th Street, where they claimed sex trafficking of underage children took place.
The crowd, which swelled to hundreds by the end of the day, was determined to locate the teens after rumors spread that the girls were last seen at the location. There’s an undeniable sentiment among Black communities that the disappearance of Black children, especially Black women, go unheard.
Activists and community members engaged in multiple exchanges with officers throughout the day, calling on them to act on the investigation. By the late evening, frustrations boiled over and members of the crowd swarmed the home, resulting in a fire and broken windows, while they tried to locate the children.
Several videos on social media highlighted the sentiment around what occurred.
“They said there were a couple of little missing kids in this house,” Frank Nitty, a community member said in a video posted to Facebook.
“It started with this house, missing kids. When the people called the police, the police came and didn’t do s–t basically, so the people decided themselves to come back to the house. People came to the house, they said people left the house, little kids left the house.”
Nitty wrote on Facebook that four children had been located after members swarmed the house, but also warned against community members using violence.
Unfortunately, three people were shot and suffered non-life threatening injuries, including two 14 year-olds and a 24-year-old man. Police also began shooting rubber bullets and throwing tear gas to disperse the crowd. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a nearby van was set on fire. Community members claim the van was used to traffic children.
“We investigate the information that is given to us. We can’t allow an unruly crowd to determine what that investigation is,” Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said during a press conference. A department spokesperson said they are looking into the sex trafficking allegations, while Morales expressed his condolences to the homeowners in the surrounding community.
“What you had today is vigilantism. You had people take the law into their own hands and run off of information that has not been proven,” he continued. “We need to investigate that. That’s what the police is here for.”
Community members continue to inquire why an Amber Alert was not issued for the missing teens, but police claim their disappearance was not considered critical, and also say they struggled with getting needed information from family members.
While many have tried to connect the tension to Milwaukee’s ongoing George Floyd investigation, Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff posted a video to Facebook, trying to make sense of the highly emotional day.
“I don’t have all the answers and I’ll say this, I think we’re living in an area when it’s a lot easier to kind of get misinformation out there and to kind of spread stuff that is verified. And everyone wants to be first on the scene, but not necessarily first as far as the research,” he said.
“But there were accusations about sex trafficking for this one house that was out there and people were understandably very upset, and this was dealing with you know–basically community members who were saying like, ‘That house is–there’s problems..,'” he continued.
He also pointed out that he noticed there was an officer with the words “pure evil” tattooed on his knuckles on the scene, and how this officer berated community members about “Black on Black” crime when asked about the investigation.
“It just added to the tension of the situation when that was pointed out,” he said. He did voice that police in the community are overworked, but at the end of the day, they are there to serve the community.
He said that the takeaway was that there has to be more investment in de-escalation tactics and that although the police were there, violence still ensued. He implored community members to reach out to their local alderman’s to voice their concerns.
“This is not the way a society should be run,” he said.