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The Nation

Outrage, but No Surprise, at Attack

Crime: 'We fight here all the time,' resident says of Milwaukee area where a young mob fatally attacked a man. Ten suspects are in custody.

October 02, 2002|ERIC SLATER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MILWAUKEE — Shamon Johnson ran his tongue over his gold-capped front teeth and shook his head so hard that his dreadlocks lashed his face as he watched half a dozen police officers hoisting a gangly, handcuffed boy into a paddy wagon Tuesday.

"When they catch them all, I bet I'll know every one," the 24-year-old said. "Every single one. And I hope they get what they deserve.

"But man, they didn't want to kill him. If they wanted to kill him, they would have just gone and got a pistol. Everybody here has a pistol."

Police moved in waves through this city's crime-crippled Johnson's Park neighborhood on Tuesday, rounding up suspects in the Sunday night mob beating of Charlie Young Jr.

Ten were in custody by evening. An additional six were being sought. Almost all were children, the youngest 10, the oldest 18. Each could face murder charges.

Young, 36, died Tuesday of his injuries after a day and a half on life support.

Before word of Young's death, residents mingled in the street and on the stoops of two liquor stores--each just 50 yards from the porch where Young went down--unanimously lamenting the orgiastic violence that police say erupted around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Like Johnson, they shook their heads or covered their mouths, knowing that the names of the suspects would be very familiar in the small neighborhood of tenements. Perhaps they would even be kin.

After expressing their outrage and disgust, however, many said they were hardly surprised. And they sometimes mocked those who would question how children and teenagers, ones who grew up here, might have beaten a man with bats, shovels, a rake.

"We fight here all the time," said Keith Martin, 37, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood who says he is near the top of the city's waiting list to become a police officer.

"We usually don't kill each other, but the only people out here who don't have guns are you," he said to a television reporter.

"These kids have nothing to do," Martin said later. "The membership at the YMCA is 200-something dollars. We don't have that kind of money. This is going to continue to happen until you give these kids something to do."

The neighborhood, just east of downtown, for years has been a center of drug dealing, carjackings, violence of every sort, including the beating of a minister a week ago and the shooting of a police officer a few years back.

Since that shooting, police have patrolled even more heavily than before, hauling young, jobless black men downtown and handing them $679 "drug loitering" tickets, residents complain. But crime, they say, has remained about the same: bad.

Nationwide, the homicide rate in the United States' 25 largest cities declined by an average of 25% between 1996 and 2000, according to federal statistics. It fell by just 6.7% in Milwaukee, the 19th-largest city in the country.

The number of juvenile murderers rose dramatically between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, nearly doubling for 16- and 17-year-olds, according to the FBI. Although those figures have declined slightly in the last few years, they are still well above what they were two decades ago.

A place that is seldom peaceful, what with the shouting and public drinking and drug sales, the residential intersection of Brown Street and 21st Lane took on an unusually nervous feel Sunday, residents say.

A group of boys, at least a few carrying baseball bats and metal poles, had gathered in the afternoon near Pride Foods, one of the liquor stores. By evening, one resident said, they were still there--laughing, yelling, shoving each other and laughing some more.

Then, in a matter of seconds, boisterous play degenerated into violence following an "egging," police say, a nasty adolescent pastime. One boy in the group, a 10-year-old who was coaxed by others, according to police, hurled an egg at a man passing nearby.

The man was Young, and the egg hit him.

Known to some as ".380," perhaps after the caliber of a handgun, Young chased after the boy. A 14-year-old cut him off, police say, and Young punched the older boy in the mouth, knocking out a tooth.

The mob turned violent, according to authorities. Those with weapons took after Young while others stormed onto a nearby porch and armed themselves with gardening tools and lumber.

The youths allegedly battered Young as he fled down an alley, past green municipal garbage cans, past shattered garage doors and a rotting blue Pontiac Grand Am.

Young made his way onto the crumbling porch of an occupied tenement and forced his way inside, only to be dragged back out by the mob, police say.

Blood was pooled on the porch and splattered on the tan walls and across the brick-red awning, 9 feet above, neighbors say, before residents washed it off Monday.

Police say Young lived more than 40 blocks from the neighborhood, but Johnson's Park residents say he was frequently in the area.

Four of the suspects--three 13-year-olds and a 15-year-old--appeared in court Tuesday evening, and they were ordered held in a detention facility until they are charged. It was not known whether they would be charged as adults.

On Tuesday afternoon, several adults sat on the porch of an apartment building half a block away, some smoking cigarettes, others sipping cans of Colt .45 Malt Liquor. A school bus pulled up and children headed up the stairs, past the adults.

"That was messed up," Alonda Erving, 29, said of the beating. "That don't make no sense. But this is the ghetto. There's crime all the time."

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