The “signal shot for the black freedom movement in Milwaukee” began as a routine traffic stop. On February 2, 1958, Daniel Bell, a twenty-two year old African American male, was pulled over for an inoperative taillight. Within moments he was fatally shot by Milwaukee patrolman Thomas Grady. The officer claimed that he chased and cornered Bell because he believed Bell was a holdup suspect. Purportedly, when Bell lunged at him with a knife, Grady had to shoot the suspect. A coroner’s jury subsequently ruled that patrolman had acted “justifiably.” Black Milwaukeeans quickly became suspicious of Grady’s story, leading to a short-lived protest led by Rev. R. L. Lathan. In turn, Lathan reported police intimidation and threatening phone calls directed at him. Twenty-one years later, an officer who had been at the scene of the shooting revealed that Bell had not lunged with a knife and that Grady had planted the knife after the shooting. He also recalled that Grady’s words then were: “It was just a goddam nigger kid.” In 1979 Grady confessed and was convicted of reckless homicide and perjury. A few years later, the Bell family received a settlement from the city of Milwaukee.
For Further Reading
White, Sylvia Bell, and Jody LePage, Sister: An African American Life in Search of Justice. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.