Sylville Smith: The Man Who Was Shot By The Milwaukee Police

Another black man has been gunned down by the police, this time in Milwaukee, and the world is fiercely debating whether it was his fault.

23-year-old Sylville Kwamederan Smith was fatally shot in the chest and arm Saturday afternoon during a foot pursuit by the Milwaukee police.

Police officers stopped a car that contained Smith along 3200 block of North 44th Street in Milwaukee. During that time, Smith, who was allegedly carrying a stolen handgun, took off and after issuing multiple warnings that went unheeded, police say they shot him.

The police department took pain in its press release to note that Smith had a “lengthy arrest record.”

So was Kwamederan a notorious criminal?  

An investigation into his data suggests not really. In fact, it revealed many arrests but only one was a misdemeanor conviction. He had no felony convictions.

The misdemeanor conviction was for carrying a concealed weapon, to which he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to one day in jail and a fine of $443. Other misdemeanor offenses included several traffic violations for speeding, driving without insurance, having a suspended license and possession of intoxicants in a vehicle. His single felony charge, which included intimidating a witness, was later dropped by the prosecutor.

He also charged with a first-degree recklessly endangering safety and a misdemeanor of possession of THC, the main mind-altering ingredient found in marijuana; however, both these charges were dismissed based on a motion by the defense attorney.

Smith was also accused of calling his girlfriend from jail to give her instructions: to call the victim in a shooting case, in which Smith was involved, to sign an affidavit saying he didn’t commit the crime, according to the Journal Sentinel. The victim withdrew his identification of Smith and the case was dropped later when he failed to report in court.

In 2013, Smith was charged with retail theft that was, once again, dropped by the prosecutors.

Police also said the semiautomatic handgun taken as evidence from Smith’s body was also stolen from a home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in March, along with 500 rounds of ammo.

The first question that arises from the incident is why the Milwaukee police stopped Smith’s automobile. Even if police were aware of the individuals in the car had past charges, did that give the police justification for killing one of them?

Constitutionally, police officers are allowed to open fire only under two conditions, stated David Klinger, a professor who studies use of force at the University of Missouri St. Louis. The first is what cops call the “defense-of-life standard,” which is to “protect their life or the life of another innocent party.” The second is to prevent a criminal from escaping — but only if the officer has an “objectively reasonable” belief the fugitives are a threat to someone.

However, many critics believe it shouldn’t be about what is legally justifiable but what’s preventable.

So, the question now arises is whether the police perceived themselves or others to be in immediate danger or whether Smith shot his weapon at someone. According to Milwaukee Police Assistant Chief Bill Jessup, both of the above things have not been determined.


The officer who fired the shots has been placed on administrative duty during the investigation. His name has not been disclosed for fear people would want to exact retribution on him, but he is a 24-year-old black man (which has led to the absurd claims that the fatal shooting could not have been a result of racial profiling) and has been serving the Milwaukee Police Department for six years.

The event sparked violent riots in Milwaukee Saturday night, which led to the destruction of several buildings and vehicles, including one police car, and wounded a police officer and at least one other person.

Smith’s friends and family offered a mixed remembrance of his life.

Nefataria Gordon, a friend, said he “was a nice, good person. He was really respected.”

However, his godmother, Katherine Mahmoud said, “I’m not going to say he was an angel. He was out here living his life.”

Another acquaintance, Darin Ware said, “He was always kind of a troubled kid. He was a fun kid but he was not without issue. … Without knowing all the details I don’t want to say he was at fault or the police were at fault. It’s just a shame.”

Smith was also a father of a 2-year-old son, according to his Facebook page.

Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters

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