During the 1950s and 1960s, the Milwaukee Police Department was accused of brutality and oppression directed at the Black community. In 1958, the local Black community criticized the Milwaukee Police Department after a cover-up in the death of 22-year-old Daniel Bell. Police Chief Harold Breier remained adamantly opposed to civil rights activities that went on in the city. After the Youth Council’s 1966 Eagles Club protests in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Breier began a constant surveillance of the group, as well as its advisor, Father James Groppi. The policemen assigned to the watches would often harass Youth Council members and jail them for offenses as minor as littering or jaywalking. During marches, many police officers often heckled Youth Council and Commando members.
During the open housing marches, Breier ordered all police officers assigned to protect the Youth Council not to wear their police badges so that they could not be identified if they were committing acts of police brutality. On the second day of the open housing marches, just after the Youth Council had returned from the South Side, the Freedom House caught fire. Fortunately, the young members inside were able to escape to safety out the back door. Many Youth Council members maintained that the fire was started when hostile police officers shot a tear gas canister into the house. When the fire department arrived, the police prevented them from coming near the house until it was burned beyond repair.
Tensions with police once again rose during Milwaukee’s 1967 civil disturbance in which 18-year-old Clifford McKissick was shot and killed by police. EM