Curfew in place in Milwaukee after weekend unrest

Members of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's department close down Sherman Park after disturbances following the police shooting of a man in Milwaukee on Aug 15, 2016.
Members of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's department close down Sherman Park after disturbances following the police shooting of a man in Milwaukee on Aug 15, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

MILWAUKEE (AFP) - A nighttime curfew for teenagers appeared to be maintaining calm in the US city of Milwaukee on early Tuesday (Aug 16), following two nights of violence over the fatal police shooting of a black man.

"It appears at this hour that a lot of parents and guardians have taken very, very seriously the curfew that has gone into effect tonight," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted Mayor Tom Barrett as saying.

National Guard troops were on standby as a precaution. Six people were arrested earlier in the evening and a police station was temporarily closed after shots were fired nearby, the paper reported.

There was "no major arson or property damage," police chief Ed Flynn said in an update just before midnight, NBC News reported.

Police in the now relatively calm Midwestern city faced off with protesters in the city's Sherman Park neighborhood on Saturday and again on Sunday after the death of 23-year-old Sylville Smith, who officials say was armed.

The death angered residents, as it echoes a series of deadly police incidents involving mainly African American suspects.

In the weekend clashes, protesters set cars and businesses on fire. They targeted police with gunshots, rocks and bottles.

Fourteen people were arrested on Sunday and three police cars were damaged, according to officials.

"There were groups of young people in particular, who were travelling in the streets," Mr Barrett told a news conference on Monday.

"Those people, in my mind, were deliberately trying to damage a great neighbourhood, in a great city."

The curfew for minors under the age of 18 began at 10pm.

Protests erupted on Saturday, when a crowd of about 200 turned violent following the shooting of Smith, who was in a car with another individual when he was stopped by two police officers.

Smith and the other person fled on foot. A black police officer then shot and killed Smith after he failed to drop a gun, according to authorities.

Officials said police body camera video, not yet released to the public, clearly shows that Smith had a gun and had turned around to face the officer when he was shot.

Seven police officers were injured in a second night of violence on Sunday that stretched into the early hours of Monday.

On Sunday, there were 30 instances of shots fired, Mr Flynn said. Officers did not return gunfire all night, in a show of "tactical and strategic restraint", he noted.

Bullets struck an armored police vehicle's windshield, and a rock broke through a police car windshield, sending glass fragments into the eyes of two officers, the chief said.

Another officer's "riot helmet received a graze wound to the back of it, probably from a firearm", Mr Flynn said, adding that the officer had not suffered serious injuries.

City politician Khalif Rainey - who represents the Sherman Park neighbourhood - issued a plea for peace on Monday, calling Milwaukee residents to "put down the bricks and put away the guns".

"Yes, our neighbourhood has problems. Yes, it is unjust that many of us are denied economic opportunities because of the color of our skin and the zip code in which we were born. Yes, too many of our young people are mired in frustration, hopelessness and crime," Mr Rainey said.

"But you can't fix the roof of a burning house."

The Milwaukee officer who shot Smith was now staying with relatives out of town for fear of his safety, Mr Flynn said.

The officer has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard in such situations.