The madness of crowds was on full display in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this past week as an investigation into the whereabouts of two missing teens ended up with shots fired, a rampaging mob, and several families left homeless after rioters burned down their shelter in an act of mistaken identity and vigilante justice.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, police searched the home in question last Tuesday morning looking for the missing teens, but found no evidence that they had ever been there. Unsatisfied, the paper reports a “group of onlookers began searching the home,” which, the last time I checked, is called breaking and entering.
By the time hours of chaos ended, three people had been shot, including two 14-year-olds; and 10 officers and a firefighter were injured. An unknown number of others were hurt by the tear gas and rubber bullets police fired into a scattered crowd.
The girls, ages 13 and 15, were eventually found by one of their mothers more than three miles away. Police said there was no indication the girls were ever there — or that the house was used for such activity.
The Milwaukee paper glosses over the “hours of chaos,” but a report by the Milwaukee Police Department provides some harrowing details.
While officers were on scene, the crowd continued to grow and individuals began to throw bricks and pieces of concrete at officers, which resulted in two officers being injured. Due to the large crowd and their unruly behavior, the officers who were at the location requested back up. Prior to additional officers arriving at the scene, the crowd surrounded the rear of the residence and set a couch, a vehicle and a residence on fire.
Milwaukee Police had to escort members of the Milwaukee Fire Department to the scene in order for them to be able to safely extinguish the fire. As a result of responding to this incident, one member of the Milwaukee Fire Department sustained a non-life threatening injury and was transported to a local hospital.
During this incident several shots were fired by individuals in the crowd and three individuals sustained non-life threatening gunshot injuries. The victims of those non-fatal shootings were taken to a local hospital for treatment where they are expected to survive. A total of ten officers sustained injuries.
Later in the evening, the crowd returned and reignited the fire to the residence. Officers intervened; however, three officers were injured by individuals who were in the crowd who struck them with bricks.
By the time the girls were found, the home that some in the crowd suspected of being a den of sex traffickers had gone up in smoke, leaving Jaleesa Hall and her family with nowhere to stay and virtually all of their possessions destroyed. Hall had left her home a couple of days earlier to give birth at a local hospital, and watched on TV as her home was set ablaze.
“I just couldn’t sleep or even rest because of it,” she said.
Local activists said the home was long suspected to be a hub for sex trafficking. But Hall, who lived in the upstairs unit, said she had not seen any suspicious activity.
As a mother of a 2-year-old and a newborn baby, Hall added, she would not have felt safe living in the unit if she had believed her neighbors were engaging in such activity.
“I don’t know where they’re getting this information from,” Hall said.
But rumors took hold on social media as people livestreamed from the scene to thousands of viewers, sharing unconfirmed information.
Like a game of telephone, the details morphed over time: How many children were missing? Could they be in houses nearby? And what, if any, evidence was found in the home at the center of the conflict to support allegations of sex trafficking?
And after Hall shared her story, people on social media began calling her a fraud, speculating that she didn’t actually live in the house.
Mobs rarely listen to reason, and they’re not known for their critical thinking skills. It’s bad enough when a statue of an ardent anti-slavery advocate gets torn down by a crowd intent on destroying what they assume to be a symbol of oppression, but when a riotous mob ends up torching a home under the mistaken impression that they’re purging a neighborhood of sex traffickers, we’ve entered a dangerous new phase of mob rule.
Perhaps if there had been some armed citizens in the home to protect themselves and their property, they could have prevented their house from burning down. As it was, neither the police or fire crews on hand were able to quell the mob, and Jaleesa Hall ended up leaving the hospital with her new daughter and no place to live.
To the best of my knowledge, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett hasn’t said a word about the mob that injured officers and set fire to the home either. The mayor needs to get his act together and get his city under control, because at the moment it appears that there is little law and even less order on the streets of Milwaukee. Until that happens, however, expect mob violence like this to lead to a surge in new gun owners in the city as residents seek to protect themselves from the madness of crowds.