'Our children are not disposable': Newspaper accused of ‘trivializing’ killing of black toddler with news quiz

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is being criticized after publishing a quiz that many say trivialized the recent murder of a 3-year-old black toddler, Brooklyn Harris. (Photo: Facebook, Von Sisson)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is in hot water over a multiple-choice trivia question regarding a black toddler’s death — which many in the community find both troubling and triggering.

The prompt in question reads: “A 3-year-old girl was shot and killed last Saturday morning in Milwaukee. Where was she when it happened?” The paper listed four choices, including “a playground,” in her living-room,” “the sidewalk in front of her house,” or “the back-seat of her mother's car.”

The quiz was referencing a Milwaukee toddler named Brooklyn Harris, who was fatally shot on July 13 in the midst of a road rage incident. At her funeral, the family called her a “happy little baby," one whom her grandmother nicknamed “smiley.”

When a screenshot of the quiz made it onto the Facebook of longtime Milwaukee resident — and mother of three teenage boys — Shavonda Sisson, she was outraged. In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, the 39-year-old says she decided to repost the newspaper’s inappropriate question on Twitter in hopes of gaining more traction and holding the paper accountable.

According to Sisson, the paper’s initial response was one of indifference. On Wednesday, the same day as the Brooklyn's funeral, she tweeted the screenshot of a conversation between one of her friends and the Journal Sentinel’s Facebook page.

In the message her friend writes, “Why did you use a little girls death as part of your quiz?” The paper responds, “because we’re obviously insensitive.” In a screenshot obtained by Yahoo Lifestyle, the paper ultimately added a message — hours later — saying that “the above message was not legitimate” and “not sent by anyone who represents the Journal Sentinel.”

The paper apologized publicly on Twitter Sunday, writing that they “regret” the incident occurred. In a lengthy statement made to Yahoo Lifestyle, the Journal Sentinel's Senior Vice President and editor, George Stanley, offered many defenses.

Stanley explained that the person who crafts the weekly quiz thought he would “draw more awareness to the violence facing children in the city by choosing four places where infants and toddlers were shot as possible answers.” He continues, “it was not a disrespectful idea, but it was poorly executed. Unfortunately, his editor was off on vacation the day that went through or she would have fixed it before it ever saw print.”

Stanley continued, “I’m embarrassed by it and dismayed that we added any pain to the grieving family. That’s the last thing we want to do. It also does not reflect our continual news reporting about Milwaukee and its problems.”

Sisson, who has been living in Milwaukee since she was three, disagrees. She says the quiz is indicative of bigger, long-standing issues in her home city including “hyper-segregation,” which has left only two good schools for black children to attend. A Brookings Institute study from January 2019 found that Milwaukee has the highest level of black-white segregation of any metro area in the U.S.

Aside from dehumanizing the death of one black toddler, Sisson says the quiz was “detrimental to entire communities,” revealing that “each answer choice on the quiz was actually a place in which a black child was shot and killed in Milwaukee.”

Multiple stories confirm her revelation. In 2012, 13-year-old Darius Simmons was shot and killed by his 75-year-old neighbor in front of his home and mother. In 2018, 17-year-old Will Davis was shot and killed in Swing Park. Just last month, a 5-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed himself at home in his living-room. In her opinion, the local media often handles these deaths insensitively.

As a mom of three, it hits close to home.

With tears in her eyes, Sisson shares with Yahoo Lifestyle that her cousin, 45-year-old John T. Martin was murdered just last year in Milwaukee and that she was informed of his death by someone who had seen it reported on the news — before police even contacted her family. The Journal Sentinelwhich wrote up a four-sentence article on the death, didn’t address him by name or the manner in which he died. “He wasn’t just in some damn fight!” she says. “He was protecting his family.”

Sisson believes the coverage of her cousin’s death — much like the quiz — reflects the paper’s failure to treat black victims with integrity. She’s far from alone. On Twitter, residents have come forward to express similar concerns. “The level of disrespect and disdain for black life is on full display here,” one user wrote. “This child is not buried yet,” wrote another of the reference to Brooklyn. “Her death is not trivial or amusing.”

Sisson says the Journal Sentinel needs to do more to make up for this — suggesting the families referenced in the quiz deserve financial compensation. In a comment under the paper’s Facebook apology, she writes, “This isn’t good enough. What will be done to repair the harm you all have caused?” she wrote. “This post isn’t it.”

While she says the grieving families cannot focus their energy on this issue, she insists the community wants answers. She says as a parent, it is a painful reminder of “how much society doesn’t value” her children. “I want to love my boys that much harder because there is such a lack of love for them outside,” Sisson tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Our children are not disposable, we mourn our babies too.” Sisson says this instance of trivializing the loss of black lives, amongst many others, leaves her questioning if there will ever be a change.

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day.