Deer District shootings leave Milwaukee leaders at the brink

·3 min read

Milwaukee's mayor and police chief on Tuesday pleaded with citizens and lawmakers to help address ongoing gun violence punctuated by shootings outside an NBA playoff game that left 21 injured.

Police Chief Jeffrey Norman said police have arrested 11 people varying in ages from 19 to 30 for the Friday night incidents near a downtown entertainment area known as the Deer District. Two of those arrested have been identified as shooters. Nine of the 11 guns that were recovered were fired that night, Norman said at a news conference.

Three people were killed in separate shootings around the city the following night.

Norman said police will be deploying additional officers and resources and will be enforcing a curfew already on the books for youth ages 17 and under. He said violence will not be the “new normalcy” and asked the community to help.

“Our path forward to a safer Milwaukee requires that everybody join together in partnerships,” Norman said. “Standing on the sideline is not an option.”

Said Mayor Cavalier Johnson, "We especially need, especially need, parents to step up. We need parents to step up now.”

Seventeen of the people were hurt Friday when two groups who had been feuding appeared to randomly run into each other after the playoff game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. Officials played video Tuesday that showed one of the groups congregating on a street corner when the other group walking on a sidewalk emerged from behind a building, starting the exchange of gunfire.

“First of all, you've got individuals that we just saw on video who had a complete and blatant disregard for their fellow citizens and their lives,” Johnson said. “They shot in a crowd where there were hundreds or thousands of people that were gathered. That is totally acceptable and we cannot stand for that in Milwaukee."

Norman said investigators have not determined if there was any known gang affiliation but called it a “dispute between two groups that came to a head when they saw each other that unfortunate night.” Police have yet to determine motives for the other two shootings.

The Deer District is a 30-acre entertainment center that was developed after Fiserv Forum opened in 2018. It features numerous bars and restaurants where large crowds often assemble to watch major sporting events or to attend festivals.

The first shooting Friday was at 9:10 p.m., about five minutes before the game ended, when three people, including a 16-year-old girl, were injured. One person was hurt in the second shooting about 10:30 p.m., police said. The confrontation between the two groups started at 11:09 p.m.

Two people have been charged. Otis Green, who was shot in the leg, is charged with possession of a firearm by a felon and bail jumping. Jeremiah Fraylon, who was shot in the upper arm, is charged with possession of a firearm by adjudicated delinquent, carrying a concealed weapon and bail jumping.

After a year when 180 of the 193 killings in Milwaukee came by firearm, the city has recorded at least 80 killings so far this year. That's a more than 40% increase from the same time in 2021. The number of nonfatal shootings this year is 264, two fewer than from the same time a year ago.

Norman bristled at the notion that gun violence is a Milwaukee narrative, calling it a “societal issue” and pointing out recent fatal mass shootings around the country. Johnson, the mayor, said the Wisconsin Legislature must make it more difficult for people to get guns, especially those who are “so ill-tempered and not responsible enough” to have them.

“Access to guns for individuals is a state issue,” said Johnson, who later added, “The city’s system worked. The police caught the people. The police took guns off the street. The police arrested those responsible.”