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Issue of the Week: Williams’ Death Must Be Thoroughly Investigated

Plus: Hero of the Week

Sep. 26, 2012
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Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn (left) and Milwaukee County DA John Chisolm

As of this writing, we don’t know if U.S. Attorney James Santelle will investigate the death of Derek Williams while in the back of a Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) squad car.

Santelle says he is considering it.

We urge federal prosecutors to take a long, serious look at what happened to Williams, who died in July 2011 after repeatedly telling MPD officers that he could not breathe. Those officers ignored Williams’ cries for help until it was too late. Williams’ death was first attributed to natural causes, most likely the result of sickle cell crisis. But more information about Williams’ death has forced the medical examiner to change the cause of death from natural to homicide.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said he would set up a special prosecutor to handle the criminal investigation and to conduct a public inquest. We support Chisholm’s efforts to provide more transparency and provide justice.

But what about MPD Chief Edward Flynn? He isn’t saying much, though he did say that the department would cooperate with any investigations. The department has already begun training officers on how to handle individuals who are suffering from sickle cell crisis.

Something has to change. The MPD has a blemished history, especially in its relations with minority suspects and members of the city’s minority communities. And Chief Flynn’s recent actions haven’t inspired confidence. His officers have been accused of conducting unauthorized strip searches. In July, Flynn walked out of a Fire and Police Commission meeting before the public could ask him questions about the death of Darius Simmons, an unarmed African-American 13-year-old who was allegedly shot and killed by his white neighbor, John Spooner. Officers held Simmons’ mother in a squad car instead of allowing her to go to the hospital to be with her son.

And now Derek Williams has died while in police custody.

We cannot repeat the bad old days of MPD Chief Harold Breier.

The MPD under Chief Flynn must find a way to keep our community safe while respecting the lives and civil rights of those in custody. If Milwaukeeans have to rely on investigations by the district attorney and U.S. attorney to enforce those standards, then let the investigations begin.

A memorial fund is being set up to support Williams’ three young children. You can donate by making out a check to the Derek M. Williams Jr. Children’s Memorial Fund and sending it to Samster, Konkel & Safran, Riverfront Plaza Suite 405, 1110 N. Old World Third St., Milwaukee, WI 53203.

Heroes of the Week: Racine Symphony Orchestra Volunteers

Over 81 years, the Racine Symphony Orchestra (RSO) has performed more than 400 concerts with the mission of enriching, educating and entertaining southeastern Wisconsin children and adults alike. RSO (800 Center St., Suite 120, Racine) is the largest professional performing arts organization in Racine and is the county’s only symphony orchestra. Of the nonprofit’s six annual concerts, five are educational opportunities for students and three are offered free to the public. One outreach opportunity includes the orchestra’s 50-year tradition of performing free concerts for fifth-grade students, which has engaged more than 85,000 young people and is a critical part of the local school system. The orchestra regularly supports and collaborates with smaller arts organizations, partners with the League of American Orchestras to collect food for the local food bank (Orchestras Feeding America), collects over-the-counter medications for the local Health Care Network, and contributes more than $150,000 to the local economy.

“The RSO’s board of directors and volunteers are very important to the success of the orchestra,” says Bonnie Prochaska, executive director of RSO. “Components of the organization would not get done if we did not have an active board and exceptional volunteer base of help.”

RSO always needs volunteers to join the board of directors and board committees, as well as people to help at concerts and with mailings. Additionally, the symphony is seeking monetary support to help finance its growing educational opportunities and is specifically in need of an LCD projector for presentations. For more information about RSO programs, volunteer opportunities or donating, please visit www.racinesymphony.org or contact Bonnie Prochaska at 262-636-9285 or bonnie@racinesymphony.org.


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