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Blatant Racial Attacks in Milwaukee
Aug. 5, 2011
Unprecedented violence on the opening night of the Wisconsin State Fair by rampaging youths prompted extraordinary measures Friday: The head of the fair implemented new rules to keep unattended teens off the grounds at night, and Gov. Scott Walker ordered the State Patrol to help keep order.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn, meanwhile, promised Friday to beef up policing at this weekend's major public events around the city to limit any chance of the State Fair events being repeated.
The violence left workers and patrons of the fair in West Allis shaken and reminded many of the mob-like disturbances that occurred over the Fourth of July weekend in Milwaukee.
The trouble at the fair started around 7 p.m. Thursday in the midway area, where amusement rides are located, when fights broke out among black youths, said Tom Struebing, chief of the State Fair Police. Those fights did not appear to be racially motivated.
Then around the closing time of 11 p.m., witnesses told the Journal Sentinel, dozens to hundreds of black youths attacked white people as they left the fair, punching and kicking people and shaking and pounding on their vehicles.
At least 31 people were arrested - many for disorderly conduct - in connection with the incidents on the fairgrounds and on the streets outside. At least 11 people, seven of them police officers, were injured, officials said. Twenty-four people were arrested within the fairgrounds by State Fair Police. West Allis police arrested seven people, five of them juveniles, outside the fairgrounds.
Struebing said two injured officers were hospitalized; one was hit in the face with an improvised weapon, the other suffered a concussion.
"We normally can handle anything in the park," Struebing said.
Because of the violence, Rick Frenette, CEO of the fair, announced that the fair would immediately implement a policy in which no youths under 18 years of age would be allowed onto the grounds after 5 p.m. without a parent or guardian at least 21 years old.
Frenette, a veteran of 40 years in fair management, said he had never implemented such a policy before.
Walker made the decision to provide extra State Patrol help after reviewing the incidents, said his spokesmen, Cullen Werwie.
"We will continue to evaluate the situation and make any adjustments necessary to ensure a successful and safe event. We will be doing everything in our power to ensure that parents feel that it is safe to bring their children to the world's best fair," Werwie said in a statement.
West Allis Mayor Dan Devine said in a statement that "thuggery has no place at the Wisconsin State Fair, or anywhere in our society."
Devine said he was disgusted by the reports of violence. "It is appalling that a group of hoodlums has cast such a negative light on what is traditionally a safe and family friendly event," he said in a statement.
Barrett said there would be no tolerance for violence at festivals and that perpetrators will be prosecuted - regardless of race.
"Two years ago, I was a victim of a random attack (outside) State Fair . . . last night, events took place at State Fair that I don't believe are random," Barrett said at a City Hall news conference. The attack by a man wielding a tire iron left Barrett with stitches in his head, broken teeth and broken bones in his right hand. On Friday, security started setting up extra metal fencing at entrances around 5 p.m.
Patrice Harris, communications manager for the State Fair, said identification will be checked at each gate in the area where bags are searched. She said the time spent checking for identification shouldn't affect the time spent waiting in line before getting into the fair.
At Gate 3, at least 70 people had their IDs checked within the first hour. All appeared to be minors without guardians.
Jeremy Chavez, Anthony Henderson and Anthony DeHoyas, all 16, were among those stopped.
"I didn't know about the adult thing," Chavez said, although he had heard that IDs would be checked. Henderson and DeHoyas were also taken by surprise.
DeHoyas, who was celebrating his birthday Friday, was upset at being turned away and said he doesn't plan to come back.
He called his mother, who came to the fair to supervise the three teenagers.
Police from three jurisdictions - West Allis, Milwaukee and Wisconsin State Fair - spent Friday trying to piece together what happened. But they could not say what started the situation.
Witnesses, though, told the Journal Sentinel that the attacks appeared to be unprovoked and racially motivated.
"You could just tell they were after white people. That was the main thing. If you were white, they were coming after you," said Jon Stikl of Oak Creek.
He said he was stuck in traffic as a group of young people blocked cars near the fair gate on S. 84th St. near I-94 after he picked up family members attending the fair.
"We noticed a group of five to 10 young black males run up and jump a young white male for no other reason then him being white," Stikl said.
They knocked him to the ground, and then a group of 15 black men kicked and stomped on him, Stikl said.
"My wife's brother jumped out of the car - his natural reaction was to try to break it up. Before you knew it, five or 10 guys were on him and started punching at him. My wife was able to pull him back in the car. So now they surrounded my car and just started punching through the windows, kicking and shaking the car, screaming racial things."
He said there should have been more police presence, given that disturbances were reported inside the fairgrounds shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday.
"I was disgusted by the lack of security. It's a black eye on the State Fair" and police, he said.
Andrew J. Coleman, a recent University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate, said he and a friend were attacked about 10:30 p.m. after they left the fair through the gate off S. 84th near the Pettit National Ice Center.
"I just heard footsteps behind me and I turned around and I got hit in the face. There were six or seven just beating on me," said Coleman, who has a sore jaw from the punches.
His friend was stomped on and his sneakers stolen, said Coleman, of Milwaukee.
A concession worker who works near the midway area told the Journal Sentinel that earlier Thursday night, large groups of African-American youths ran through the midway, knocking over young children and adults, disrupting midway amusement rides and tearing signs up. The midway is east of the Pettit National Ice Center and adjacent to the Hank Aaron State Trail.
"I have never seen anything like it," the worker said. "It was mob mentality."
The worker said there was police presence, including officers on horseback, but it was not enough.
A 34-year-old Muskego man said he was riding on the Ferris wheel in the midway with one of his children when he heard shouts of "fight" sometime after 7 p.m. He saw a big group of people, perhaps 200 to 300, gathered around a brawl.
"I've never seen anything like this in my life. . . . There were so many people you couldn't see who was fighting. There was just this big group that kept growing and chanting, 'Fight, fight, fight,' " he said. "That lasted for one to two minutes. Then when security showed up blowing some whistles, all of this mob started running. It was like a herd of cattle."
Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines said he was at the fair Thursday night and witnessed blacks fighting each other, but did not see any blacks attack whites.
He said that if it happened, those individuals should be charged with the crime as well as a hate crime.
"They should be penalized for the prime incident, and we should have a racial enhancer," Hines said.
Although some fairgoers were critical of police response, Hines said State Fair police acted appropriately and professionally.
"They were working hard to control the chaos," Hines said.
He said some coordination problems with other police departments might have happened outside the grounds.
The Wisconsin State Fair is in different jurisdictions. The north side of the fairgrounds, from the Hank Aaron State Trail north, is in Milwaukee. The rest is in West Allis. Adding to the confusion is that the Wisconsin State Fair Park police have jurisdiction only on the fairgrounds, not outside of it.
The incidents Thursday night come as the State Fair Board has worked to increase diversity at the annual fair, expanding its entertainment lineup and attempting to appeal to a younger, more multicultural audience. Diversity was a priority for former State Fair Park Chairman Martin Greenberg, who spoke of making it a "place of inclusion, not exclusion."
The violence is similar to what occurred in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood over the July 4 holiday, when about 60 young people beat and robbed a smaller group that had been watching fireworks from Kilbourn Reservoir Park. The injured people were white; the attackers were African-American, witnesses said. Another group looted a convenience store.
Thursday night's Main Stage performer was rapper MC Hammer, but a number of people who attended the concert said the show wasn't to blame for the disturbances at the fair. One woman said the crowd watching Hammer was mostly white and adult, and any children there seemed to be with parents.
Another woman said the concert was "very laid-back and had no craziness that we witnessed at all. The craziness was in the midway."
State Fair melee
At least 31 arrested
At least 11 injured, including seven police officers
New rules: No one under 18 admitted to fair after 5 p.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Gov. Scott Walker orders State Patrol to provide additional policing help.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn beef up police presence at fair and other Milwaukee events this weekend.