Deirek Smith pushes a tattered stroller down West Lancaster Avenue on a sunny spring day in Old North Milwaukee. The stroller is filled to capacity with a mound of scrap metal — mostly an air conditioner he had the fortune of coming across. Smith, 57, walks with a leisurely gait toward a scrap yard on Mill Road. “I was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I been here since 1964. And, my life took some real [turns], after one lady I was with for, what, 20 years, she died of cancer. And, then, after her, I met another lady and she died of cancer after 8 years,” he says. “So, I’ve been just doin’ this.”
LuAnn Will’s home at 2659 S. 15th St. sits in the middle of a long dead-end block in Milwaukee’s Polonia neighborhood, inconspicuous except for the bullet holes that litter the front porch and the “We Don’t Call 911” sign displayed in her front window. Will talks about her son, Joseph Lee Walker, as she shows where – porch, front hallway, bedroom – the dozen or so bullets left their mark, constant reminders of that night in early April when Walker was shot three times by Milwaukee Police. Fearing for her life after being threatened by Walker in the midst of what she describes as a psychotic episode, Will was the one who, eventually, called police non-emergency. She only wanted her son, who’s suffered from addiction, depression and mental illness for most of his life, to get the help she’s adamant he needs. But Will could never have imagined what would happen next.
Steven Davis stops to ask for a dollar near the corner of Capitol and Teutonia. He just got a job at Burger King, he says, but, today, he doesn’t have enough for the bus. “Just about three hours ago they called me on my phone,” says Davis. “At least I’m tryin’.” Davis sports a worn black leather jacket and a Green Bay Packers cap, despite the fact that his family is from Minnesota – he’s been in Milwaukee for about a year-and-a-half. “Oh, it’s beautiful; it’s different,” he says of his home state. Davis gestures to the corner where some young men are milling about. “They don’t play that in Minnesota. You go to school and you work and they don’t hang no dudes like this on the corner – you’ll never see that. Na, they do not play that.”
Calvin Weston lingers in the parking lot of Lena’s Foods near Teutonia and Capitol. Today, Weston’s selling CDs for two-dollars-a-piece; that’s not what’s on his mind, though, as he walks up to the thigh-high fence that divides the lot and sidewalk. Weston says he’s been trying to get his kids – who were taken from him and his fiancé and placed in foster care – back for the last 15 months. But, despite questions about their safety, the children have not been allowed back with their father. “It’s crazy because they say they take the kids for their protection but they took ‘em from us and called it ‘protecting ‘em’ but put them in an environment which was dangerous, actually. Before my son got abused, I was lettin’ the judge and everyone know, like, ‘I’m concerned about son’s well-being, something’s going on over there, could somebody check it out?’ And it took for him to get hurt for them to…finally, say something or do anything,” said Weston.
Aaron Wood sits in an alley near 2nd and Ring, just outside his garage, working on a friend’s car. Doing bodywork and car interiors are just a couple of Wood’s many hobbies. But, when it comes to work, when it comes to paying the bills, Wood found something that worked and stayed with it. “I’ve been at the company I’m at now…for like 16 years,” he says.