“I can babysit, shoot a gun and cook at the same damn time.”
Those are the words of Shaunda Payne, a formidable woman who had her first child at the age of 13 and had committed murder by the age of 15.
Though she continues to keep a pistol in her bra and bathes with a loaded Mossberg shotgun by her side, this former gang-leader turned social activist now runs an anti-violence group called Unity in the Community on one of Milwaukee’s most lawless streets.
The group regularly meets at her home for barbecues and creche-like gatherings, with most evenings illuminated by the glow of sirens and the whine of bullets whizzing by.
Louis Theroux’s last instalment of Dark States takes us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said to be one of the most racially-divided and impoverished cities in the US.
It’s spiralling gun crime and homicide rates saw the city listed as the fifth most dangerous city in America last year.
Using figures from the FBI’s 2015 Uniform Crime Report, 24/7 Wall St listed the number of violent crimes per 100,000 at 1,596.1. In 2015 there were 145 murders and the city had a poverty rate of 29.4 per cent. The unemployment rate is 6.7%.
The report added: “Although the population rose by just 0.5 per cent (over the five years ending in 2015), the number of violent crimes rose by 60.5% - from less than 6,000 incidents to more than 9,500.
“In just five years, the city had moved from being the 29th most dangerous city in the United States to the fifth. A major driver of that increase was aggravated assault incidents – which are said to have nearly doubled during that time.”
Theroux spends time with the Milwaukee Police Department as they patrol District 5 - home to some of the nation’s deadliest streets and with a homicide rate more than 12 times the national average - and follows the Homicide division as they investigate one of the city’s many killings.
On the streets of Milwaukee, Theroux discovers a community often misunderstood by, and mistrustful of the police. Tensions are particularly high between the authorities and the African American community due to an incident which saw a police officer fatally shoot 23-year-old Sylville Smith during a foot chase last year.
His brother, Sedan Smith, tells Louis: “At the end of the day it’s not a race war. You see those police over there? It’s them against us. It’s not white on black, it’s blue on black.”
Reflective of the five fatal shootings in the African American community in the 24 hours leading up to Sylville’s death, Sedan adds: “This is a state where a lot of trash needs to be cleaned up…There’s been a war on drugs going on here since 2006 and now it’s guns. They’ve given us the right to carry the guns without cleaning up the drugs.”
Theroux’s bleak travels with the police see innocent black men being pulled over and searched as they acknowledge they simply “fit the description” and a teenage boy on a street corner, who when asked where he hopes to be in ten years, replies: “I hope I’m alive.”
We hear from both sides of the debate in a city in a desperate situation and though Theroux always strives to identify glimmers of hope, this time he really has his work cut out for him.
Nonetheless he muses: “I reflected on how many of those living and dying here had been set up to fail…But I’d also seen people, especially mothers, fighting to break the cycle in a fractured community, attempting to rebuild hope.”
Louis Theroux: Dark States - Murder in Milwaukee aired on BBC2 on 22 October at 9pm