Feds coming to Milwaukee concerns council members as DNC draws near

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The Wisconsin Center on West Wisconsin Avenue and North Vel R. Phillips Avenue looking north in Milwaukee. (Photo: Chelsey Lewis and Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Members of the Milwaukee Common Council on Friday raised concerns that the federal agents President Donald Trump plans to send to Milwaukee could pose challenges during the Democratic National Convention.

“The new dynamic is the reality of what’s going on in Portland, the reality of what’s about to happen in Chicago and the reality about what’s threatening to happen in Milwaukee that may very well coincide with the time we have the DNC,” Ald. Milele Coggs said at a city meeting Friday. 

Federal agents have been criticized for their response to protests in Portland, where they have been accused of using excessive force and arresting protesters without probable cause. Federal officials dispute the allegations.

News broke Thursday that Trump would be sending federal agents to Milwaukee as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Operation Legend, which recently brought more than 200 federal officers into Kansas City after a 4-year-old boy was shot and killed.

Matthew D. Krueger, U.S. attorney for Wisconsin’s Eastern District, said Friday the federal officials coming to Milwaukee will focus on violent crime, illegal gun cases and slowing the city’s rising homicide rate — not responding to protests or civil unrest.

Federal law enforcement was already scheduled to be present in Milwaukee specifically for the DNC.

Ald. Robert Bauman questioned what would happen if those federal officers assigned to the DNC were to confront protesters, despite plans that federal officials would be inside an area that would require credentials to enter. 

Deputy City Attorney Adam Stephens said he didn’t anticipate a “showdown” between Milwaukee police and federal law enforcement. 

“I think our partners are professional and they’re honorable and everybody is going to conduct themselves accordingly within the law and within their responsibilities of hosting this event in order to protect everybody’s right to protest and exercise their First Amendment rights,” he said.

The “soft zone” released in January is not expected to change because of the need to control traffic, though the “hard zone” dictated by the federal Secret Service remains in flux based on where convention events will be held, said Milwaukee Police Capt. Derrick Harris.

Federal agents have not been assigned to crowd control, he said.

Pedestrians will be able to come and go from the “soft zone” — the area from Cherry Street on the north to Clybourn Street on the south, and from 10th Street on the west to Water Street on the east, Stephens said.

The “hard zone” area around the convention facilities has not been released.

What members of the public can bring into the “soft zone” was the subject of an ordinance the Public Works Committee approved on a 4-1 vote Friday morning.

The ordinance prohibits members of the public from bringing a litany of items into the “soft zone,” including nunchucks, air pistols, drones, containers of bodily fluids, glass bottles, coolers and more.

“Rather than worrying about whether an ice cooler has a bunch of Mountain Dew in it or a pressure cooker, this prohibition would just simply say if there’s an ice cooler seen by law enforcement inside the security zone, the person will be asked to leave or dispose of it,” Stephens said.

The committee voted to remove gas masks from the list of prohibited items.

The measure also prohibits obstructing the public right-of-way and abandoning certain items.

There will be signs telling people in the “soft zone” what they cannot carry and they’ll be asked to give up those things or leave. Stephens said the intent is not to arrest anyone but citations and $500 fines can be issued.

The mostly virtual convention is set for Aug. 17-20.

The full Common Council meets on Tuesday for the last time before the convention.

Contact Alison Dirr at 414-224-2383 or adirr@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonDirr. 

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