West Allis & Wauwatosa, Wisconsin: 1987-1993
I was born in Wisconsin, in 1987.
My first residence was a small apartment in West Allis, a blue-collar city bordering Milwaukee’s southwest side. One of my only memories of this earliest era of my life is of occasionally playing with the kids from the apartment directly across the hall from our door.
In more recent years, I heard my dad recall something shocking from this time period that I had no knowledge of, something I’d never heard our family speak of before.
West Allis lies just south of the city of Wauwatosa, which is situated on Milwaukee’s northwest border.
As it happens, right at the time I was born in the late 1980s, no less than thirteen Wauwatosa Police Officers were found to have participated in “parties” for several years on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.(1)
What follows is the verbatim text from one of the fliers that were distributed at the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) itself to promote these events: “The hunting of deer, rabbits and other traditional game will not be permitted in the state during the 1989-90 season. However, the governor has provided, by special decree, a substitute animal to be hunted…there will be an open season" on Blacks.(1)
There were multiple fliers. On some of them, Wauwatosa Police Officers allegedly used the pictures of real civilian men whom they’d recently arrested.(2)
Yet another flyer distributed at the WPD read: "Official Runnin' Ni**** Target" alongside an image of a Black man running away.(1)
The few details we know about what transpired at these “parties” are nothing short of mortifying.
In 1988, 1989, and 1990, Wauwatosa Police Officers allegedly showed up to their anti-social gatherings in costume. We’re talking full-fledged Black Face, caricatured imitations of Black male clothing, and name tags mocking the names of Black men.(1)(2)
Watermelon was served.(1) Confederate flags and Klu Klux Klan material were allegedly on display.(2)
In 1990, local news got ahold of the jaw-dropping story. Over a dozen active Police Officers were implicated in organized celebrations of racial hatred, consistently, and over the course of multiple years. Their fliers were distributed on government property.
With the whiff of media controversy in the air, the WPD acted predictably. In short order, the city announced a brand-new Police Chief, a man presented to the public as a reformer. The fresh new face stepping into this high-stakes moment of tension was that of Barry Weber.
In 1990, incoming Wauwatosa Police Chief Weber was quoted in the Journal Times stating, "No one can argue that the things found (regarding the MLK parties) are anything but disgusting and offensive."(1)
Well, that’s a good start.
But, Chief Weber continued, “The information is so fresh we have not done anything with it yet."(1)
In the end, Chief Weber decided never to do “anything with it” at all.
Out of the thirteen Officers Chief Weber knew to be actively harboring hatred in their hearts towards a significant segment of the civilian population they had been hired to serve and protect, exactly zero of them were fired.
Up front, the thirteen officers were temporarily suspended without pay. But when the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission completed its investigation into the matter, it promptly reversed the suspensions, and none of the officers involved appear to have otherwise been held to any true account in any identifiable fashion.(2)
According to reporting by Urban Milwaukee, “Meeting minutes and Wauwatosa police annual reports show the officers involved were not fired and, in some cases, later promoted under Weber.”(3)
John Bozicevich was the officer who hosted the MLK parties at his own home multiple times.(4)
Not only did Bozicevich remain on the force after the news of the MLK parties broke, he was actually soon after promoted by Chief Weber to Acting-Lieutenant.(4)
Under Chief Weber’s reign, John Bozicevich would rise to become the second most powerful man in the Wauwatosa Police Department.(2)
John Bozivevich was not the only disgraced local Police Officer that Chief Weber, the supposed outside reformer, would further embolden within the WPD in the early 1990s. In fact, “Chief Weber promoted [several of the MLK party] officers through the ranks of the WPD and many became upper management.”(2)
Now over thirty years after the WPD hosted and then sought to gloss over the organized, sadistic expressions of explicit racism in a large segment of its workforce, we still know fairly little about what really happened.
Much of what we do know is thanks to the heroism of a signal civilian who intervened, John Kutz.(2)
A clerk in the WPD at the time, Kutz was the only individual in the institution who had both the integrity and the courage to stand up and blow the whistle on what he was witnessing transpire around him in his workplace.
John Kutz brought the existence of the MLK parties the attention of the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission.
By the time Kutz himself was called to testify before that commission’s investigation into the MLK parties, he revealed the brazen workplace harassment and intimidation he’d endured at the hands of his colleagues and even superiors at the WPD for having exposed their disgusting behavior to the public.(2)
Officer Howard Bacon was yet another of the thirteen officers who participated in the MLK parties.(2)
In John Kutz’s official testimony before the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission, he describes a moment many may find unimaginable.
In retaliation for the offense of having properly reported the ongoing MLK parties, Officer Howard Bacon physically threatened John Kunz’s life.
One day, from inside the Wauwatosa Police Department headquarters itself, Officer Bacon confronted Kutz, pointed his handgun at him, and pulled the trigger.(2)
Kutz survived. Bacon’s gun was unloaded.(2)
Though an officer of the Wauwatosa Police force, Officer Howard Bacon resided in neighboring West Allis.
Specifically, Officer Howard Bacon lived in the apartment directly across the hall from my family when I was a very young child.
It was this man’s children I would occasionally play with. They were the kids from across the hall.
Officer Howard Bacon remained on the Wauwatosa Police force for the rest of his career. He retired in 2013.(5)
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin: 1990
I was three-years-old the first time I witnessed police activity visually jarring enough to seer itself into my memory.
Days earlier, my family had moved into a new neighborhood. Leaving behind the small apartment in West Allis, we traded up for a small home in Wauwatosa. The home was just off of Keefe Avenue, precisely one block from the city of Milwaukee border.
It was a Sunday morning; we were in the car on the way home from church. My mom was driving, and my sister Sydney and I were in the back seat. Sydney was just about one at the time. Normally, my dad would have been with us, but as we had just moved into a new home very close to a high-crime area, my dad had stayed back to install new locks on the doors.
As our vehicle approached the final turn onto our home street, my mom suddenly pulled over and stopped the car. I looked up to see our street obstructed by around a dozen police cars, all of whom had their lights flashing. I saw policemen moving with urgency, on foot, up our street. Many of them were carrying guns that required two hands to operate. I was perhaps too young to be scared. I simply recall feeling somewhat mesmerized by the sensory overload of it all.
My mom, slightly panicked, yelled at my sister and I to unbuckle our seatbelts and get down on the floor. This was 1990, long before cell phones. She firmly instructed us to stay where we were, to not move, and that she would be right back. She left the car and went to find a neighbor willing to let her use their landline so she could call my dad.
That’s all I remember about the incident in that moment. But years later, I learned just a bit more of what had happened that day.
A fourteen-year-old Black boy from Milwaukee had stolen a car. This resulted in a police chase that ended on our block. The kid ditched the car and fled on foot up our street. My dad just so happened to be at the front door of our house installing new locks when this all came to a dramatic conclusion.
The kid finally stopped running in the middle of the street outside our house. He came to a full stop. The police, closing in on him, commanded him to get down on the ground. The command was made multiple times by the approaching police, and the kid ignored their directions repeatedly.
A Police Officer, long-gun in hand, then smashed the butt of his weapon into the square of the 14-year-old boy’s back. The boy buckled to the ground, was arrested and taken away.
To this day that’s all we know about what happened.
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin: 1993
I attended 1st grade at Madison Elementary School in Wauwatosa. Like my home at the time, my school was located right on the borderline of Milwaukee.
One day, I stayed back after dismissal to help my teacher with something. From inside my classroom, I began to hear furtive murmuring from some of the adults in the hallway.
Apparently, a strange man had just been spotted milling about the school. Pretending to be a parent, he worked his way into as many classrooms as he could, and proceeded to steal any money he could find in the purses of our teachers. Police were called, I got picked up soon afterwards.
That same year, I experienced my first this-is-not-a-drill lockdown at school.
In fact, this was before proactive school-shooter drills were a regular part of the American public school system.
Not far from my elementary school was Wauwatosa West High School. That day, a twenty-one-year-old former student named Leonard McDowell came back to his old campus in search of his former Associate Principal, Dale Breitlow.
Leonard found Mr. Breitlow in a hallway and shot him three times.
While Mr. Breitlow lay dying on the floor, Leonard quickly exited the building and disappeared into the neighborhood.(6)
My 1st grade classroom, and likely other schools in the vicinity, remained on lockdown for an extended period of time. Leonard was soon apprehended, and the rest of us went on with our lives.
1. Wauwatosa Police Department’s racist, anti-MLK “parties” from 1988-1990
2. Civil Action brought to the US District Court for the Eastern District of WI by Attorney Kimberly Motley on behalf of Wauwatosa area plaintiffs seeking damages from Wauwatosa Police Department for alleged abuses of power during the 2020 summer protests
3. 0% of Wauwatosa Police Officers who attended MLK parties were fired
4. Barry Weber, “reformer” brought in to clean up Wauwatosa Police Department after MLK party story becomes public, promptly promotes John Bozicevich, who hosted the parties at his own home
5. Howard Bacon, MLK partier who fired blank shot at whistleblower John Kutz, continued to serve as a Wauwatosa Police Officer for another 20+ years under Chief Barry Weber
6. 1993 school shooting at Wauwatosa West High School