MILWAUKEE -- A march and rally calling for justice and accountability in the death of 22-year-old Derek Williams was held on Wednesday, October 3rd.
The march and rally were organized by the Campaign Against Violence/WI League of Young Voters.
Over 100 people, including family members of Williams, members of the community, activists and faith leaders marched from the Dr. King Statue (1740 N. MLK Drive) to MacArthur Square (841 N. James Lovell Street.
Williams died in July 2011 while in Milwaukee police custody. His death has sparked controversy after the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner amended his cause of death from Sickle cell trait (natural causes) to homicide (death at the hands of another).
Dashcam video shows Williams in the back of a squad car apparently struggling to breathe. That video has caused outrage among those concerned about civil rights violations. City leaders, faith leaders, attorneys representing Williams' family and members of the public have called for an investigation into Williams' death.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney on Tuesday, October 2nd named a special prosecutor to handle an inquest into Williams' death.
Those participating in Wednesday afternoon's march and rally say they came seeking justice. Some wore T-shirts with pictures of Williams struggling in the back of the MPD squad car.
"They could have saved his life. That's the whole thing. If they had done their job properly, they would have saved his life and we wouldn't even be here today," one participant told FOX6 News.
Many showed up demanding something be done.
"We're calling for an independent investigation. The federal government needs to come up in here and turn things around -- clean it up, shake it up," another march participant told FOX6 News.
Several Wisconsin politicians, including state Representative Sandy Pasch were also on hand for the event. Pasch said she wanted to show support.
"Their job is to protect and serve and if some young man dies in police custody because of a disregard for his life, you know, there is something seriously wrong," Pasch said.
Wednesday's gathering was peaceful, though emotional at times. At the end of the march, some said they wanted to take their message to Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn in person, but were convinced otherwise.
The march and rally wrapped up with a statement from Williams' family.
"The evidence that has been presented to not only the family but the world clearly shows the Milwaukee police did not do their job that day. They refused to serve and protect. Because that honor was broken, a young man`s life was taken," a Williams' family member said.
Williams' family has said they are not out for revenge -- only justice.
Earlier this week, FOX6 News learned two MPD officers at the scene when Williams died were also at the scene when at least one suspect was subject to an illegal cavity search by another officer.
An attorney in both the Williams case and the cavity search case is calling for an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"Considering all the issues concerning the department itself and I think, the deterioration of the trust of the department and the chief, it warrants and behooves the Department of Justice to review the department as a whole in regards to whether there has been and continues to be a pattern and practice of civil rights violations that have been continuing and may be continuing to this day," Attorney Jonathan Safran said.
The Milwaukee NAACP chapter is calling for a restructuring of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission to focus on citizen input. The restructuring would include strengthening of the Civil Equal Rights Commission, re-establishing the County Human Rights Commission and creating a State Office of Human Rights to hear citizen civil rights complaints.
In an interview with FOX6 News last week, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his department did make an error in not getting Williams help quickly enough. However, Chief Flynn said Williams' death was not intentional.
“As tragic as this death was, the individual involved had just been in a foot pursuit, climbed a fence, lost his shirt, stuck on the fence, hidden from the police, been captured by the police, briefly struggled, and handcuffed. Doesn’t mean we don’t take responsibility for not reacting more rapidly to his medical crisis,” Chief Flynn said.
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