Mayor Tom Barrett went to bed Friday knowing he would spend Saturday speaking with a community exhausted by gun violence. He hoped against hope that the topic of his speech wouldn’t be selected for him as the night unfolded.
But it was.
It was contained in a text message on his phone. Two men shot, one fatally, shortly before midnight in a car in the 5100 block of W. Lisbon Ave.
The only thing really surprising about the message, Barrett said, was the ethnicity of the men shot: Asian.
The vast majority of the people who are shot and killed in Milwaukee are black males.
“What we are witnessing, right now, is the annihilation of black males in this city,” Barrett told more than 100 people who attended the forum, “Misery in Our Midst — Gun Violence,” at the African American Women’s Center. The forum was sponsored Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who brought with her congresswomen Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).
So far this year, 13 children under the age of 14 have been shot in Milwaukee. The July 13 death of 10-year-old Sierra Guyton, struck by a stray bullet May 21 as she played on a playground near her home, has been particularly appalling and has galvanized groups throughout the city to speak out against gun violence.
Moore was quick to address critics who might have dismissed the forum as yet another heartfelt session lacking in substance.
“This,” she said, “is the critical mass of people we need to reach out to the community.”
Besides Barrett, Waters and Fudge, speakers included Marna Winbush, president of Mothers Against Gun Violence, who spoke about personal loss; the Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, who spoke how mass incarceration foments more violence; Antonia Vann, from Asha Family Services Inc., who spoke about the ways guns escalate lethal domestic violence.
Many spoke about violence bred by poverty, but it was Waters who most succinctly linked the two when she said, “I could walk out of here and have a gun in 10 minutes.”
“But I can’t walk out of here and get a job in 10 minutes.”