He Loved a City That Killed Him


Greg Zyszkiewicz loved as dearly as he was loved.  The man everyone called "Ziggy" loved his wife, loved his children, loved his grandchildren, and loved his friends; thousands of whom packed his visitation to reflect one last time on how much they loved him.

What wasn't there to love about a man who loved so much?  He loved his time in the Army, loved running marathons, loved serving as a Scoutmaster, a paper carrier, and a handyman.

And he loved Milwaukee.  What else would you call his dedication to serving it for 33 years?  It was love.  He could have retired years ago, but he loved working at the Department of Neighborhood Services too much. He loved his coworkers.  He loved the job.  He loved Milwaukee.

But his love for it, his commitment to it, his decades of serving it led shockingly, tragically to his death.  In both a figurative and a very literal sense, Greg Zyszkiewicz loved a city that killed him.

Last Wednesday, three young men from Milwaukee were doing what young men in Milwaukee have been doing far too frequently over the past decade: Stealing cars.  Only Milwaukee doesn't refer to it as "stealing cars," it's "joyriding."

Milwaukee's mayor, Tom Barrett, summed it up last year:

"My argument is, look, I understand if someone steals a car once it’s a joyride," he said during a mayoral debate.  "The second time if there’s no gun involved, you can even say it then.  But the third time, there has to be consequences.  I’m not saying send them to Lincoln Hills because that has issues, but there has to be consequences if someone is out there stealing a car a third time."

This lax attitude toward a serious felony has had serious consequences for Milwaukee, as car thefts have spiked 67% in the past four years, fueled by a 2010 Milwaukee Police Department policy that all but prohibited officers from chasing stolen cars.

If a crime is so unserious in Milwaukee that its police department quite literally won't pursue it and its mayor doesn't believe in consequences until the third offense, what is Milwaukee to think?

What were those three young men who were out stealing cars last Wednesday to think?  Did they think that Milwaukee would let them steal Greg Zyszkiewicz's car?  Did they think that Milwaukee wouldn't chase them?  And, if Milwaukee somehow managed to catch them, did they think that Milwaukee wouldn't treat their crime seriously?

Obviously, they did.  And why would they?  Milwaukee hadn't taken their crimes seriously before. Why would it start now?  

One of Ziggy's killers, 17 year-old Qhualun Shaw, just had his first experience as an adult with the Milwaukee County justice system just six weeks earlier.

On February 10th, he was arrested and charged with Operating a Vehicle without the Owner's Consent, a Class I felony punishable by a maximum sentence of three-and-a-half years in prison.

Four days later, though, instead of requiring that Shaw post bail, Milwaukee County Intake Court Commissioner Grace Flynn set him free on a $500 signature bond.  In other words, Milwaukee had just told Shaw that he could steal a car and get out of jail with nothing more than his signature and a promise not to commit any more crimes until his next court date.

Exactly six weeks later, Greg Zyszkiewicz was dead.

Milwaukee didn't pull the trigger--Shaw's 17 year-old co-defendant Deshaun Scott did--but Milwaukee's refusal to treat Shaw's earlier car theft as the serious crime it was emboldened him to continue to steal cars; to attempt to steal Ziggy's car.

Had Milwaukee required him to post bail, any bail, would Shaw even have been out of jail and able to continue stealing cars?  During his initial court appearance, he was declared indigent, so it's entirely possible that even a small bail amount would have kept him behind bars and away from Scott and 21 year-old Eric Smiley, Jr. last Wednesday.

It's entirely possible that if Commissioner Flynn, if Milwaukee had required that Shaw post even a token bail amount, Smiley and Scott--who were out stealing cars last Wednesday--wouldn't have needed to steal a third car for their buddy Qhualun Shaw.  It's entirely possible they wouldn't have taken a second glance at that guy in the Mustang parked near 23rd and Cherry.  It's entirely possible they wouldn't have made a u-turn. It's entirely possible they wouldn't have gotten out of the car with a sawed-off shotgun in Scott's hand.

It's entirely possible that Ziggy wouldn't have been killed.

Flynn's refusal to set bail might have been excusable given Shaw's lack of an adult criminal record (though it is entirely possible that his sealed juvenile record is full of serious offenses), but Milwaukee's shameful and unjustifiable leniency toward Smiley shows an unmistakable and deadly trend.

Eric Smiley, Jr. has literally been a criminal his entire adult life, starting a charge of carrying a concealed weapon on February 4th, 2014.  When he failed to answer a summons, an arrest warrant was issued, but Smiley failed to appear in court.  In what would be the first of dozens of breaks that Milwaukee would give Smiley over the next three years, Court Commissioner Katharine Kucharski freed him on a $250 signature bond.

Like his current co-defendant Quhalun Shaw three years later, Smiley signed a promise not to commit any further crimes.  And like Shaw three years later, he broke that promise almost immediately, getting arrested on April 5th, 2014 for possession of marijuana, drug paraphrenalia, and bail jumping.

All three charges are Class A misdemeanors, meaning that convictions on them could have landed Smiley in prison for more than two years plus an additional nine months for his prior concealed weapon charge.

However, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz accepted a plea deal that combined the two cases and resulted in Smiley serving just five months on the weapons charge and a mere five days for marijuana possession.  His bail jumping charge was dismissed but read into the record, meaning that for all intents and purposes, Smiley faced no punishment whatsoever for violating the terms of his signature bond.

On September 11th, 2015, less than a year after receiving this lenient sentence, Smiley was arrested again, again for carrying a concealed weapon and for obstructing an officer.  And once again, he was set free on a signature bond, this one issued by Court Commissioner Barry Phillips.  Once again, Smiley failed to appear in court and a bench warrant was issued.   

Once again, Smiley took advantage of Milwaukee's leniency to resume his life of crime and was arrested last March for carrying a concealed weapon, obstructing an officer, bail jumping, and his first felony, theft of movable property.  As usually happens, Smiley's crimes were getting more serious, and he could now face more than 15 years in prison for all of the charges he now faced.

The two separate cases against Smiley--one from September, 2015 and the other from March, 2016--were merged, and for the first time in his life, he was required to post bail.  Court Commissioner J.C. Moore set bond at $2,000, which Smiley was able to pay even though he claimed indigency and received a public defender.

Naturally, Smiley failed to appear at his next court appearance and his bond was forfeited.

Three months later, on June 13th, Smiley pleaded No Contest to the consolidated charges against him, making him a convicted felon.  However, while awaiting sentencing, he was arrested again on charges of carrying a concealed weapon, making him a felon in possession of a firearm.  His felony conviction also made his bail jumping a felony.

However, even though he was a convicted felon with a lengthy history of bail jumping, Court Commissioner Maria Dorsey sets a cash bond of just $5,000, which Smiley also posted.

A month later, he failed to appear at his sentencing hearing and instead of sentencing him in absentia, Judge Thomas McAdams postponed Smiley's hearing.  When Smiley was finally re-arrested on December 1st, Judge McAdams refused to keep him in custody, instead increasing his bond by just $1,000 to a total of $6,000.

Naturally, Smiley posted it but for the first time was ordered on electronic monitoring.  Stunningly, though, Pretrial Services did not have an available GPS bracelet for Smiley, and perhaps even more stunningly, Judge McAdams did not remand him to custody as a flight risk, but instead kept him--a convicted felon with a long history of bail jumping--out on bail.

Subsequent hearings conflicted with other cases on Judge McAdams' schedule over the next two months until finally Smiley was back in court on March 15th--still not sentenced for his felony conviction nine months earlier.

One week later, Greg Zyszkiewicz was dead.

It's entirely possible that if Judge McAdams, if Milwaukee had sentenced Eric Smiley in the past nine months--keeping him in prison instead of out on the streets--his friends Deshaun Scott and Qhualun Shaw wouldn't have been out stealing cars on Wednesday.  It's entirely possible that they wouldn't have had Smiley's sawed-off shotgun, the same shotgun Smiley had used to threaten and assault his estranged girlfriend earlier that day.  It's entirely possible that Deshaun Scott wouldn't have had the sawed-off shotgun in his hand when he walked up to Ziggy's car.  

It's entirely possible that Ziggy wouldn't have been killed.

Scott may have pulled the trigger, but make no mistake--it was carjacking that figuratively loaded the gun.  It was Scott's, Shaw's, Smiley's, and every other carjacker in Milwaukee's belief that carjacking just isn't a crime that Milwaukee will punish.

In Shaw's and Smiley's cases, it seemed as though Milwaukee wouldn't punish any crime.  In that sense, while the three suspects are of course ultimately responsible for Ziggy's death, Milwaukee's leniency that both emboldened them and allowed two of them on the street that day figuratively loaded their gun.

Milwaukee, a city and county that see leniency toward criminals as compassion, as love, then, think nothing of the danger into which that unjustified leniency puts its law-abiding citizens, its hundreds of thousands of Ziggys.

They love Milwaukee, but will they be the next victim of its refusal to protect them from the people who don't seem to possess the capacity to love, who can't see the law-abiding as anything other than potential victims?

Greg Zyszkiewicz loved Milwaukee.  He loved Milwaukee so much so that he wouldn't stop serving it when he could and, once he had to start wearing a bulletproof vest to work, when those who loved him might have wished he would.  But it doesn't seem as though Milwaukee loved him back.  At least, it didn't love him enough to make its streets safe for him to patrol.  It didn't love him as much as it loved its self-serving crusade to stand up against "mass incarceration" by keeping hardened criminals like two of Ziggy's three killers out of jail.

Greg Zyszkiewicz loved Milwaukee.  So do hundreds of thousands of good people just like Greg Zyszkiewicz.  They live in Milwaukee, they serve Milwaukee, they make Milwaukee the great place they know deep down that it can be.

When will Milwaukee start loving them enough to protect them?


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