Downtown Milwaukee will be under a limited curfew for the rest of the weekend and a massive watch party scheduled for Sunday has been called off after 21 people were injured in three separate shootings near an entertainment district where thousands gathered for an NBA playoff game.
In one of the shootings Friday night, 17 people were hurt when two groups started firing at each other. Three people were hurt in another shooting, and one in the third. All of the gunfire happened blocks from the arena where the Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals. All of the victims are expected to survive.
“What makes people think they can just have a shootout on a public street or in an entertainment district, whether police are there or not?” Assistant Police Chief Nicole Waldner asked at a Saturday news conference.
Mayor Cavalier Johnson said the city imposed a curfew for the downtown area requiring everyone age 20 or younger to be off the street by 11 p.m. for Saturday as well as Sunday — when the Bucks play at Boston in the decisive Game 7.
Meanwhile, a Game 7 outdoor watch party that had been planned in the Deer District entertainment area just outside the arena was called off. Jeff Fleming, a spokesman for Johnson, said in a text that the team decided to cancel the event “after consultation with the city and public safety agencies.”
The watch party for the Sunday afternoon game likely would have drawn well over 10,000 people. The Bucks said 11,000 attended a Game 6 watch party, even as more than 19,000 others were inside the arena.
“The shootings that happened in downtown Milwaukee last night were horrific and we condemn this devastating violence,” the Bucks said in a statement. It said the watch party was called off “to allow law enforcement to devote needed resources to the continued investigation of last night’s events," but noted that Deer District businesses will remain open.
Johnson said those responsible for the shootings will be held accountable.
“We cannot have that in this city, nor anywhere else in this state, nor anywhere else in this country,” he said.
Waldner said three people, including a 16-year-old girl, were injured in the first shooting at 9:10 p.m., which was roughly five minutes before the game ended. One man was taken into custody.
The shooting happened just outside the boundaries of the Deer District, a 30-acre entertainment district that was developed after Fiserv Forum opened in 2018. It features numerous bars and restaurants where large crowds often assemble to watch major sporting events or to attend festivals.
Bill Reinemann, a parking attendant at a lot adjacent to Deer District, said he heard gunshots, then saw scores of people running away.
“It sounded like six to eight gunshots,” he said. “It was close.”
At 10:30 p.m., a second shooting left one person injured. No arrest was made, Waldner said.
Dozens of shots rang out at 11:09 p.m. in the third shooting that left 17 people hurt. Five of the injured were armed and were among the 10 people taken into custody, Waldner said. Police haven’t yet determined what set it off.
“There were a couple groups exchanging gunfire despite the incredible amount of police presence that was downtown,” Waldner said. “District 1 officers reported bullets whizzing past their heads.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that broken glass, empty alcohol bottles, single shoes and two bloody shirts littered the streets in the chaotic aftermath.
Jake O’Kane, 25, of Appleton, Wisconsin, attended the playoff game with his girlfriend. Afterward, they saw the commotion from the first shooting, then went a few blocks away and spent a couple hours at bars before deciding to take a Lyft ride to a restaurant.
O’Kane said they were outside waiting for their ride “then all of a sudden you hear the ‘pop, pop, pop’ behind you.”
O’Kane said he heard about 20 shots before he was able to capture 22 more on video. He estimated the gunfire was a few hundred yards away from his group.
When the driver pulled up less than two minutes later, “I said, bro — drive!” O’Kane said.
Milwaukee was among several U.S. cities that saw record numbers of killings in 2021, most of them involving guns. The list also included Philadelphia, Indianapolis and others.
Experts believe stress and pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the violence. Johnson blamed easy access to guns.
“A central part of the problem is the fact that individuals easily get their hands on guns,” Johnson said. “This is not strictly a Milwaukee problem. Across the country we’ve seen a rise in shootings, both fatal and non-fatal.”
Of Milwaukee’s 193 killings in 2021, 180 were by firearms. Another 873 people were wounded in shootings, according to police data.
This year, the pace is even worse. Milwaukee has already recorded 77 killings, a 40% increase from the same time in 2021. The number of nonfatal shootings this year is 264, two less than from the same time a year ago.
O’Kane said he worries about the direction Milwaukee is going.
“Are we going to go to another game again, if we win? Yeah, I’m still going to end up going to Bucks games. But are we going to be partying out afterward outside? Hell no, not a chance.”