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Wisconsin governor activates National Guard after police shooting sparks unrest

Wisconsin’s governor activated the National Guard on Sunday after an angry crowd set fire to buildings and attacked police cars in response to a police shooting in Milwaukee.

State National Guard members were told to go to their local armories and to get ready to deploy to Milwaukee as early as Sunday evening if necessary, according to a news release from the National Guard.

The unrest began Saturday night after police shot and killed a black man who officials said was armed. Officers pulled over a “suspicious vehicle” that afternoon, according to Milwaukee’s mayor, and two people fled the vehicle and ran in different directions.

A Milwaukee officer who had been with the department for six years chased one of the men, identified by family members and police as 23-year-old Sylville Smith.

The officer “ordered that individual to drop his gun,” Mayor Tom Barrett said in a televised news conference. “He did not drop his gun. He held the gun — or I should say I don’t know that for a fact, but he had the gun with him — and the officer fired seven times.”

Smith was hit twice, in the chest and in the arm, police said. The officer had on a body camera during the shooting.

At a news conference Sunday, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said the officer involved in the shooting was black. Flynn, citing threats, said there was reason to fear for the officer’s safety and that of other police; he said the officer was staying outside the city. The chief described the incident as having turned from a traffic stop to a foot chase and shooting in under a minute.

Smith’s death touched a nerve in a city that is among the most racially segregated in the nation, and in a state where both the incarceration rate of black men and the poverty gap between blacks and whites exceed the national average. The 2014 shooting of Dontre Hamilton — a black man who fought with an officer who had roused him from a park bench — led to protests but no charges for the officer, who was fired for improperly escalating the situation.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Alderman Khalif Rainey, whose district includes the site of the violence, said that the violence was not justified but that he understood residents’ frustrations. Black residents are “tired of living under this oppression,” he said, adding that “nobody can deny that there are racial problems here in Milwaukee, Wis., that have to be rectified,” he said.

The shooting also came during a particularly violent 24 hours in the city, where five people were killed in three other shootings between Friday night and Saturday morning.

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