I attended the “Families Belong Together” rally this afternoon in front of the Federal Building on East Wisconsin Ave in Milwaukee. News reports estimate the crowd at 2,000 or so attendees. As the crowd grew they pushed off the sidewalk into what would normally be a parking lane (except there isn’t one in front of the federal building) and eventually into the traffic lanes blocking traffic between Jefferson and Jackson. I didn’t see a single police officer in the area although my companion thought there were two bicycle patrol officers there early in the rally.
But let’s get back to the absence of police officers. As I said I didn’t see any Milwaukee Police Department officers nor any of the officers that normally patrol the federal building. I imagine there was a conscious decision to reduce police visibility to prevent confrontations with the protestors. That isn’t the worst idea in the world and the event was peaceful and from my vantage point completely without incident. I think the authorities did the right thing at this point.
But, right or wrong, the rally closed Wisconsin Ave at that one block. That in itself wasn’t a good thing. And it probably wouldn’t have gone well if the police showed up suddenly and tried to clear the street. But I didn’t see anyone doing any traffic control either. For eastbound traffic, protesters were blocking the street with a large sign and other protesters were directing cars to proceed around the rally on Jefferson St. I didn’t see what was happening at the Jackson and Wisconsin intersection. I’d add a photo here but I don’t want to get in copyright trouble with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel if I borrow one of theirs.
But with a large crowd occupying the street and civilians performing traffic control, we are one counter protester or road rage individual in a car or truck away from multiple injuries or fatalities if someone drove into the crowd. Why wasn’t there law enforcement present to provide traffic control?
The lack of police presence may have influenced the participants in this rally to maintain a peaceful presence but would it have allowed maleficent individuals to cause mayhem just as easily?
What is the city’s take on protests? What is the MPD’s take on crowd control? At what point does safety over tolerance become a thing? Was Summerfest consuming the available police resources for a Saturday afternoon?
This went really well but it could have been a disaster just as easily.