During the 1950s, relations between Milwaukee’s black community and the police department reached a boiling point. In 1958, the police department conducted a huge cover-up in the shooting death of 22-year-old Daniel Bell. Police shot Bell for fleeing from a random police stop for a broken tail light. The reason why Bell ran remains unclear. Many speculate that perhaps he got nervous after seeing police trail his car. Bell was an illiterate Southern migrant, and as a result, could not pass the written portion of a driver’s test and therefore did not have a driver’s license. After Bell pulled over to the curb, he got out of the car and fled on foot. Two policemen followed behind him on foot. One of the officers got close enough to Bell to grab him, but instead pulled out his gun and shot the young man. The bullet entered Bell’s upper back, traveled up through his neck, and entered his head. To make the killing look justified, one officer planted a large knife on Bell and claimed that he had fled the scene with the knife in hand.
Bell’s family continued to question the Milwaukee Police Department about the circumstances surrounding his death for the next three decades. In the 1980s, the Bell family sued the City of Milwaukee to recover damages for the conspiracy to cover up the murder. A federal court jury awarded the Bell family 1.7 million dollars. The case received national coverage. EM