New information has surfaced about Sylville K. Smith, the man killed by Milwaukee police that has caused unrest in the city. According to his grandfather, William Brookins, Smith carried a gun because he had been shot before and feared for his life. In a letter that was written to a judge last year during a hearing involving his grandson, he stated the reasons that Smith should be given leniency. “In this city, there’s a lot of killings going on in the street. He was afraid for his life. He was concerned about his safety and surviving,” Brookins wrote.
Smith was on trial in 2015 for charges that included reckless endangerment. It was alleged he opened fire on a man in retaliation for the man’s role in a fight between some girls weeks earlier. According to court records, Smith and the man got into a car chase before the man finally stopped and ran on foot. Smith chased the man while firing a gun after the man fired at him. The alleged victim in that case eluded Smith by hiding behind a house during the chase. Brookins stated that his grandson suffered from mental health issues and was receiving Social Security benefits related to his mental disability. He went on to write in his letter that as a youth and adult, Smith suffered from diminished “comprehension and understanding.” His grandson was in special needs classes in elementary school and middle school and had been shot at before. It was after Smith was shot six times while in front of his mother’s house that he began carrying a gun. Smith’s mother, Mildred Haynes, has stated that that her son had recently received his concealed-carry license because he had been shot twice and robbed four times, including a robbery in which he was stripped of all his clothes.
Smith was killed on the evening of Aug. 13 after police stopped a car with two Black males inside. After the police shooting, dozens of residents took to the streets of Milwaukee to march in protest. The crowd continued to grow during the night as frustration reached a boiling point. Some individuals began smashing police car windows and one police car was set on fire. A BP gas station, a BMO Harris bank, an O’Reilly Auto Parts store, and a beauty supply store were all burned. A few other stores were looted and vandalized. The situation in the city is still tense as the investigation continues and calls for peace have been issued by the city and community activists.