Vicious Assault in Milwaukee Highlights Rising Crime
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
There was a terrible assault in Milwaukee the other night. Late Monday a 50-year-old man named Samuel McClain was driving on North 36th Street. He honked at a group of teen-agers who were blocking the street, and he was set upon with a vengeance. Mr. McClain survived, but he's still in the hospital. Here's what Milwaukee's mayor, Tom Barrett, had to say about the investigation today.
Mayor TOM BARRETT (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): The only way for us to make this neighborhood safer is to have people cooperate with the police. If they're afraid of people in the neighborhood and are afraid of retaliation from people in the neighborhood, it's only going to get worse if we don't get these perpetrators off the street.
SIEGEL: It was a mob attack, and this was the third notorious mob beating in Milwaukee in the past three years. John Diedrich is covering this story for the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel.
John Diedrich, what happened Monday night?
Mr. JOHN DIEDRICH (Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel): Well, the best information we have at the moment, Robert, is that this individual was driving to a friend's home about 11 PM at night, and there was a group estimated to be abut 30 people in the street. And he had honked to let him through. After he honked, part of the crowd set upon him, pulled him from the car, beat him about the body and the head. Some people were jumping off vehicles onto his head, doing cartwheels, according to witnesses, onto him. And some of the witnesses described it as a party-type atmosphere, where the music was turned up and these people were--appeared to be enjoying this beating that they were inflicting on Mr. McClain.
SIEGEL: Who is being charged in this?
Mr. DIEDRICH: Well, we don't have anybody charged at the moment. Police are in what they call a saturation patrol mode here, which means that they're flooding these areas with officers. And they say that they're looking for 15 people that they believe actively participated in the beating.
SIEGEL: How would you describe this neighborhood, North 36th Street, where Mr. McClain was beaten?
Mr. DIEDRICH: Well, it's like a number of neighborhoods in Milwaukee, where there's some commerce and certainly shops and people working. There's also a good deal of unemployment. It is close to a very large development, a new Boys and Girls Club, which was opened with much fanfare earlier this year. And that Boys and Girls Club was a hope that it would sort of get a grip on this neighborhood and bring it back. But it is--in parts, block by block, it can be a fairly troubled area.
SIEGEL: Now I should add here that violent assaults often gain national attention because in some way or the other the color line is crossed one way or the other. That's not what this is about. Mr. McClain is African-American and his attackers probably were as well, I guess.
Mr. DIEDRICH: Yes, mm-hmm.
SIEGEL: Milwaukee has witnessed a sharp increase in homicides this year. This is not the first mob assault in recent years, by any means. The picture we get of life on the streets of your city is just not a very attractive one.
Mr. DIEDRICH: Yeah, it's troubling. Last year the homicide totals came in at 88, which was a 16-year low. It led to a lot of optimism. Milwaukee has experienced--has a lot of poverty, and this year we're up to 122 at the moment and the year's not over. It's interesting that this phenomenon of people sort of standing in the street stopping traffic is not--this isn't the first time this has happened. It's just the first time that it's gotten this violent. But residents and police talk about the fact that young people will often stand in the street and congregate there, and residents have been frustrated that--they said they've called police to come and break these groups up. And what police will say is because they're short of officers, that that really is not a, quote, "crime in progress call." So it's one that's going to take them 20, 30 minutes or more to respond, a lower priority call.
SIEGEL: John Diedrich, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. DIEDRICH: My pleasure. Thank you.
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