MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The Milwaukee riots and violence that followed a police-shooting of an armed man this weekend show the need for a true Christian transformation in life and society, the city’s archbishop commented Monday.
“I firmly believe that the loss of a strong faith that builds character and creates change is currently missing from our current, secular equation,” Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee said Aug. 15.
“Faith in Jesus Christ has not changed. However, the commitment to live that faith has become dormant. It’s time to awaken our confidence, together, in Jesus Christ and the Gospel that presents us with the only true transformation which changes hearts as well as minds,” he said.
His words come after a fatal police-shooting triggered both peaceful protests and violent riots, and apparently led to another shooting.
“It was painful to watch,” Archbishop Listecki said. “Members of a neighborhood, who depend upon police protection, were fighting the police and burning businesses, which the community depends upon, as well as looting these businesses, which showed individuals not protesting, but stealing.”
“The anger and hurt that accompanies any action certainly is understandable, but violence is never justified as a response,” he added.
A deadly police shooting Aug. 13 triggered riots that night. Six businesses were burned, seventeen people were arrested, and four officers were hurt from flying concrete and glass.
Sunday protests included a confrontation between police and protestors. About 150 people blocked a Milwaukee intersection near the scene where a black police officer shot and killed a black man who allegedly turned towards the officer with a gun in his hand.
Some protestors threw bottles and rocks at about two dozen police officers in riot gear. Four sheriff’s deputies were injured.
An 18-year-old was shot and seriously injured after 11 p.m. Sunday.
The police shooting took place Saturday after a traffic stop due to alleged suspicious behavior. The car’s driver, 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith, fled the scene with a gun in his hand. He ran a few dozen feet then turned towards the officer, police chief Edward Flynn said.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a still image from the police officer’s body camera footage clearly showed a gun in Smith’s hand.
The mayor asked people to remember Smith’s family.
“A young man lost his life yesterday afternoon,” he said. “And no matter what the circumstances are, his family has to be hurting.”
Archbishop Listecki reflected on the unrest.
“Protest is a right of every American, but burning, shooting at legitimate authority and stealing are not,” he said, characterizing these as “self-inflicted wounds” on the rioters’ community.
He encouraged efforts to build the family, the economy, and a low-crime society to defuse the situation.
The archbishop also prayed for peace.
“We entrust our prayers to support the families and police authorities who have been caught in this conflict, as well as pray for peace in our neighborhoods and communities in Milwaukee and throughout the world.”