MILWAUKEE -- One of two dozen Democratic presidential candidates stopped in Milwaukee Sunday afternoon, Aug. 11. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker held a campaign rally in Sherman Park, nearly three years after violence and protests.
On Aug. 13, 2016, unrest began in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood, sparked by the fatal police shooting of Sylville Smith, 23. During the three-day turmoil, several people, including police officers, were injured, and dozens of protesters arrested. A nightly curfew was set up for teenagers. Smith was running and armed with a stolen handgun when he was shot. Video from Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown's bodycam showed Smith turned with the gun in his hand toward the officer just before the officer shot him. Heaggan-Brown was criminally charged with Smith's death and acquitted at trial. It marked the first homicide charge against a Milwaukee police officer in over a decade, with a civil lawsuit pending. Heaggan-Brown was fired from the force for unrelated misconduct. He was sentenced to three years in prison in February 2018 after pleading guilty to five charges in a sexual assault case. Prosecutors said he watched coverage of the unrest on TV, and then sexually assaulted an intoxicated man.
Booker, trailing Democratic front runner Joe Biden, stopped in Milwaukee Sunday after spending time in Iowa for the Iowa State Fair. Political experts said the stop likely would't be the last, with Wisconsin expected to play a big role in the general election.
"The dream still lives, and we will be the generation that takes the dream back, that takes it to a higher level," said Booker. "He may try to take us down, but America, we will rise."
Booker spoke before a packed house at Sherman Phoenix, his speech focused on issues ranging from gun violence to drug addiction. His stop in Wisconsin came after he spent time in early-voting Iowa, trailing Democratic front runners in the pols.
"We need to make sure we have candidates that can excite, energize, engage, connect to in an authentic way, to communities like this," said Booker.
For some voters, this wasn't so much a campaign rally as it was an opportunity to hear from one of the nearly two dozen Democratic candidates.
"The field is really large right now," said Larry Jemison. "So I'll wait until it whittles down, and then I'll make a decision. I have not totally decided just yet. I want to make sure I hear the candidates, and what they stand for, and in their passioned speeches, so that I can decide for whom to cast my vote."
With the Wisconsin primary nearly eight months away, Booker said his path to securing the Democratic nomination would come through cities like Milwaukee, and political experts agreed.
"I think we're going to start seeing a lot more of it," said Mordecai Lee, political expert.
President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, had already visited Wisconsin twice as of Sunday, including a stop in Milwaukee in July.
"Whether you're a Republican observer or Democratic participant, I think today's visit is an indication of the role that we in Wisconsin are going to be playing in the presidential election," said Lee.
Lee said Wisconsin will play an outsized role in this presidential election cycle, with the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July 2020.