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The fatal shooting of Dontre Hamilton resembles other deaths at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, Cleveland – and Milwaukee. A grim coincidence, or a recurring injustice?

Dontre Hamilton woke up on the morning of April 30, 2014, at the Hampton Inn on Wisconsin Avenue in Downtown Milwaukee. He had spent the night there, after paying cash for the room.

Dontre liked to fall asleep watching old movies, gangster movies especially. He had been living for the past four days in a transitional housing unit, unable to live alone since being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia the year before. But he couldn’t get his TV to work. So he checked in to the hotel for the free movies.

On that Wednesday morning, the sky was overcast and the temperature in the low 50s. Dontre dressed in a gray short-sleeved Nike shirt, a pair of blue jeans and a navy blue jacket. He put on a black belt, gray Nike shoes and a winter hat, and left his room around noon, walking a half-mile to Red Arrow Park across the street from Milwaukee’s City Hall.

Dontre, 31, spent a lot of time in the city’s parks, usually King Park on 15th and Vliet streets or the lakefront. Sometimes, he would sell bottled water; other times, he would walk to clear his head while looking for work.

On this particular day, he was worried that someone was trying to hurt him or his family. He called his mother, Maria Hamilton, to make sure she was OK. And he talked by phone to his brothers, Nate and Dameion, who tried to assure him that he was not in any danger.

“No one is going to do anything to you,” Nate told him. “Come over to the house, and we’ll be here for you.”

“OK,” Dontre said. “Meet you there.”

He never got to his brother’s house.

At Red Arrow Park, a small public square commemorating veterans of both world wars, Starbucks’ baristas were serving coffee out of a mobile trailer while its permanent shop nearby was being renovated. Around 1 p.m., one of the baristas noticed Dontre sleeping under a large red granite arrow in the park and called the police department’s non-emergency line.

Two Milwaukee police officers who were on foot talked to Dontre for about five minutes and told the Starbucks’ employees he wasn’t doing anything wrong. When Dontre didn’t leave, the barista called the non-emergency line a second time. The same officers returned and, after talking to Dontre again, told the Starbucks employees he wasn’t doing anything illegal by being in the park and they couldn’t make him leave.

At 3:30 p.m., a third officer arrived, unaware that two officers had already spoken to Hamilton. Christopher Manney, a 13-year veteran of the police force, asked Hamilton to stand and began questioning him. Dontre stood and turned his back to Manney, who began a pat-down frisk, searching for a weapon.

Hamilton didn’t have a weapon. And when he resisted, the search escalated into an altercation. Although eyewitness reports differ about how the exchange began and who struck the first blow, Manney later told the state Division of Criminal Investigation he used his wooden baton in self-defense to strike Hamilton, once in the rib area. Hamilton was able to trap the baton between his arms and his torso, and he spun away from Manney, who lost control of the baton.

According to Manney, Hamilton advanced toward him and hit him on the side of his neck with the baton. Manney pushed away with his left arm, unholstered his Smith & Wesson .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol with his right hand, aimed and fired, striking Hamilton in the chest. Hamilton moved toward him, and Manney kept firing, until Dontre fell to the ground with gunshot wounds to the right side of his neck, the right side of his chest, his abdomen, and right and left forearms.

Hamilton suffered a total of 21 gunshot wounds in his body within three to four seconds – 15 entry wounds and six exit wounds – including the partial amputation of his left thumb.

On the pavement was the black backpack given to him by his father, with a phone charger and $160.44 inside. On the ground near Hamilton’s body was the blue blanket he had been sleeping on, black winter cap with wool ear flaps, and a package of Twizzlers, his favorite candy.

Hamilton’s body lay on the ground near the granite arrow for an hour before the Milwaukee County medical examiner arrived at the park. Red tape strung around the park prevented curious passersby, taking advantage of the mild April afternoon, from straying too close to the scene.

Of 16 witnesses interviewed by investigators, none reported observing the entire altercation. However, almost all of them said they saw a police baton, a tube, a stick or a long object of some kind in Hamilton’s hands.

The timing of Dontre Hamilton’s death coincided with the highly publicized killings months later of other black men at the hands of white police officers. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City unleashed nationwide protests and sparked impassioned debate on policing methods and race.

Unlike the Brown and Garner cases, however, Hamilton’s story was less about race than it was about mental illness. At least, at the outset. As the completion of a state investigation of the Hamilton shooting wore on, and a decision of whether Manney would face criminal charges languished for weeks and then months, frustration took hold of those who questioned the police officer’s actions, and race was pushed to the forefront.

But, also unlike the Brown and Garner cases, and others similar, the public protests over Hamilton’s shooting have been absent of violence.

Still, the case has had vast repercussions: on the people directly involved – Hamilton’s family, Manney, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and his department – and on the community at large, which looks for answers to a tragedy that has played out more and more frequently here and around the country.

 

Maria Hamilton rents a duplex on the near North Side of Milwaukee. She had put on some soft music and was drifting off to sleep. It was 11:30 p.m. Although it had been eight hours since her son Dontre had been shot, she had not been informed of his death. Local media had reported the shooting, but Maria usually avoided watching the 10 o’clock news, having to wake up at 4:30 a.m. for her job in customer service at the Wisconsin Center District.

Suddenly the phone rang. She saw on her caller ID that it was a restricted call, and she didn’t answer. But the late-night call and restricted number caused her to panic, so she called her son Nate. When he didn’t pick up, she called Dameion.

“You’ve got to come over here right away,” she told him.

By then, police detectives had left a message on her phone saying they were on their way over to talk to her about her son. Something was wrong with one of her boys. But which one?

When detectives arrived, Maria met them outside. As she sat in the squad car, they began asking questions about her three sons. When was the last time she saw each of them? Where were Nate and Dameion?

Maria told them she had seen Nate and Dameion within the past week, and explained that her oldest, Jamyer Walters, lives in Minnesota.

Dontre?

Her youngest son had been in an altercation, a detective told her.

“He’s dead!” she cried out, falling out of the police car and collapsing on the ground.

Dontre and his brothers – Jamyer Walters, Dameion Perkins and Nathaniel (Nate) – grew up outside of Gary, Ind., and like many young boys, the brothers spent their time playing basketball and football and riding their bikes across town to swim at the community pool.

“He was in every creek known to man, catching frogs, doing backflips,” says Nate, who runs his own home-improvement business. “He was a tough little kid.” Just a year apart, Nate and Dontre were very close, and liked to roughhouse.

Nathaniel Hamilton Sr., the father of Dameion, Nate and Dontre, was a steel worker in Gary. He bought the three boys boxing gloves when they were young. Dontre was stocky and short, just under 5-foot-6. Nate had always been tall and slender, but Dontre was scrappy and could always beat Nate at the sport.

Maria moved the family to Milwaukee in 1995, when Dontre was in sixth grade. The boys didn’t readily adapt to Milwaukee, and Maria took them back to Indiana every weekend so they could visit friends and their father, and splash around in the community swimming pool they missed.

Still, all four of them graduated from Vincent High School on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side and adapted, with Dontre emerging as the “cool guy,” according to Dameion, now 36.

“He had a little perm and gold rings and always the cleanest car,” recalls Dameion, a service technician. “He lived like he was rich, and would always play the lottery, saying one day, he was going to hit it.”

The desire to be rich prompted Dontre to start working at a gas station at age 13. He volunteered to work double shifts and played the lottery every day. When he wasn’t working, he spent his time listening to music and watching movies. Donnie Brasco and The Godfather trilogy were his favorites. He could recite the words to the scripts.

When Dontre was in his late 20s, he told Nate that he was hearing voices. The older brother didn’t want to believe it. So Dontre confided in a family friend, who called Nate and told him about some of the strange things Dontre had been saying. Nate finally began to believe there might be something wrong with Dontre.

In February 2013, Dontre stabbed himself, thinking someone was trying to kill his family. He was admitted to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

He was connected with services through Milwaukee County, which helped him find transitional housing and a peer support specialist. County staff also helped him apply for Medicaid so he could receive his medication.

But because of mixups with his insurance coverage, Dontre wasn’t always able to receive the monthly injection needed to keep his mental health issues at bay. The last time he had his medication was Dec. 2, 2013. His next shot was scheduled for May 7, eight days after he was killed.

“He was generally doing well, but still suffering from occasional episodes with some paranoia,” Nate says. “He had not been able to get his medications for a while, which is why we were working with Dontre, the Mental Health Complex and the county outreach program to try to get his medications restored.”

(From left) Dameion Perkins, Maria Hamilton,  Nathaniel Hamilton Sr. and Nate Hamilton Jr., photographed in January. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

(From left) Dameion Perkins, Maria Hamilton, Nathaniel Hamilton Sr. and Nate Hamilton Jr., photographed in January. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

On the day after Dontre Hamilton was killed, Police Chief Flynn held a press conference.

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“The purpose is not to demonize the victim but rather identify him and, through his death, draw attention to the extraordinary social health problem being played out on the streets of America today, including Milwaukee,” he said, standing in a conference room at police headquarters. “In the course of our investigation into his background, we have learned this is not his first experience with the Milwaukee Police Department. As recently as last year, police were summoned to a scene where he attempted to kill himself by stabbing both sides of his neck saying, ‘Voices told me to kill myself and you people, too.’”

Flynn went on to say Dontre was homeless, had previously been arrested for armed robbery and disorderly conduct – things his family and attorney dispute. (There are records from the police department that show Hamilton was charged with disorderly conduct in 2011 after a disturbance at his mother’s house where he was breaking things and refused to leave. The case was later dismissed, according to court records.) The family, though, was convinced the altercation with Manney was directly related to his mental health issues, not because he was a violent criminal.

It was that press conference that prompted the Hamilton family to contact the media and begin participating in demonstrations. They wanted to clear Dontre’s name.

“There is so much put in the media that is a lie, that is misleading, that hurts us on a whole separate level,” Nate says. “We’re fighting for justice. No other family should have to go through that.”

The Hamiltons hired Jonathan Safran, a high-profile civil rights attorney, to represent the family. The 57-year-old Safran is accustomed to TV cameras. He had gained attention in 2004, when he represented Frank Jude Jr. in the largest case against the Milwaukee Police Department in history. Jude was severely beaten by off-duty Milwaukee police officers at a house party in Bay View after being accused of stealing a police badge. Three officers were convicted in federal court for the beating and received 15-year prison terms.

Safran also represented the family of Derek Williams, who died in police custody in the back of an MPD squad in 2011. The death was determined by the medical examiner to be a homicide; however, the three police officers involved were not charged. He also has represented plaintiffs in the strip-search case against Milwaukee Police.

Safran often has 100 cases going at once. He hands out his email and cell number to clients, rarely leaves the office before 8 p.m. during the week, and answers calls on nights and weekends.

“Those of us who represent have to be willing to be involved in a client’s case, treat people as humans and empathize with them,” Safran says. “I find many times I am providing as much legal assistance as psychological assistance.”

There were indications, he says, that Dontre was having a crisis because he was off his medication. “If an officer has not been trained and is patting him down for no justifiable legal reason, someone with hallucinations or paranoid episodes is going to react differently than you or I might,” Safran says. “Dontre had already been talked to by other police officers and left alone. If this officer [Manney] was trained properly, I think he would have known to do things differently.”

In April 2014, the same month Hamilton was shot, Gov. Scott Walker signed the “Michael Bell law,” requiring an outside agency to investigate a shooting if a law enforcement officer is involved with a loss of life. Bell’s son, Michael Bell Jr., had been fatally shot by a Kenosha police officer in 2004. Bell Sr. spent the next decade lobbying for the law.

Safran is skeptical of the state’s investigation into Hamilton’s death under the Michael Bell law. At least a half-dozen of the agents investigating the shooting at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation were former MPD cops. “The problem is, the law doesn’t have any consequences to it,” he says. “I’m not sure the DCI is the best one to do it. They’re investigating those they may have worked with in the past.”

Despite his role representing alleged victims of police misconduct, Safran tries to empathize with his legal adversaries. During the Jude case, he enrolled in the Milwaukee Citizen Police Academy, a 10-week program designed to provide people with a working knowledge of the Milwaukee Police Department.

“I came out with a heightened appreciation of the hard work the police officers do,” Safran says. “The vast majority of officers are very good and they are doing a very tough job. It’s just the bad ones that concern me.”

 

Mental health calls to the Milwaukee Police Department have climbed steadily since 2004. In 2013, there were 8,127 calls for mental health service, up about 3.5 percent from 2012. That same year, 5,500 people were taken to emergency detention.

These numbers should be the focus of the Hamilton case, says Flynn, but Ferguson has changed the narrative to an issue of racial injustice.

Flynn rejects the notion that race was a factor in Hamilton’s shooting. “A number of people have wrapped themselves around this family with varying agendas,” he says. “Their influence is pernicious. No objective person could see this as a racial issue.”

But race was top of mind last September outside a small boardroom on the third floor of City Hall, where Flynn addressed the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission.
No justice. No compromise.

The chants were low at first, but built to a booming rumble outside the closed doors of the boardroom where the Coalition for Justice, formed in the wake of Hamilton’s shooting, had come to present the commission with a list of six demands.

High on the list: the immediate suspension without pay of any police officer involved in any criminal investigation.

The rally was one of many, as “No justice. No compromise” became the mantra for dozens of faithful supporters over the next year.

The delay in the release of the state investigation, as well as delays in Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s decision on whether to bring charges against Manney, had frustrated members of the coalition. The protests got larger, and more disruptive, culminating with the arrest of 74 people on Dec. 19, 2014, during rush-hour demonstrations that blocked traffic on Interstate 43.

“We are going to continue this campaign until we get answers, and we should not have to compromise,” said the founder of the Coalition for Justice, Curtis Sails, after one Downtown demonstration.

But compared to disturbances in Ferguson and in New York, the protests in Milwaukee had been relatively peaceful. The Hamilton family repeatedly pleaded with protesters to remain nonviolent.
Flynn – who more than once has called Dontre’s killing a “major tragic situation” – believes the city has remained calm because his officers have facilitated the protesters’ First Amendment rights in a way that respects them and recognizes their frustrations.

But even more so, Flynn says what is shown on television – large groups of people storming Downtown in outrage over this case – is not reality. The actual protests most often include about 50-60 people, half of whom are white. Since coming to Milwaukee seven years ago, Flynn has focused his efforts on community-based policing and developing neighborhood-based leaders.

He says it’s working, and the city’s reaction to this shooting, as opposed to the reaction in Ferguson and elsewhere, is based on the thousands of interactions with his department. He believes his department is one of the few governmental organizations helping the city’s impoverished neighborhoods.

“There is a strong interest in national television journalism to keep this going,” says Flynn, who is serving the last year in his second term as chief of police. “They are trying to say that the disaster in Cleveland, the tragedy in Milwaukee, the problems in Ferguson and the issues in Los Angeles are all part of a unitary pattern… Every one of these cases has unique facts. But when you link them together, it only empowers fraudulent pseudo activists… Do they honestly think they are going to help Milwaukee get the assistance from state and federal authorities that it needs to truly help these disadvantaged neighborhoods by acting this way?”

With the exception of an event in Chicago, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson addressed the Hamilton case during a rally at his Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, and Jackson’s subsequent visit to Milwaukee, Dontre’s killing has not generated the national attention that Ferguson and the other incidents have.

Seeing that contrasted against the national outpouring of support for Michael Brown’s family in Ferguson has been difficult at times for the Hamilton family. “Some of the elected officials, we reached out to,” says Dameion. “Seeing Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson… Just to see them bypass Milwaukee when this happened to my brother, we did feel some type of, ‘What about us? What about Dontre? We need to take care of the matter right here.’”

At the same time, Maria Hamilton doesn’t feel the need to dwell on any perceived unfairness.

“I don’t need to meet Michael Brown’s mother – I am her,” she says. “At some point, when I am healing and the criminal part of the case is behind me, I would like to speak to her, and to Trayvon’s mom [Trayvon Martin was the Florida teen fatally shot by George Zimmerman in 2012] and others. But as far as the St. Louis situation, I don’t want Dontre linked to that. Dontre didn’t do anything wrong. He had a right to be in that park, and his life was taken.”

Chief Edward Flynn believes the MPD’s community-based efforts have helped keep protests  since the Red Arrow Park killing relatively peaceful.

Chief Edward Flynn believes the MPD’s community-based efforts have helped keep protests
since the Red Arrow Park killing relatively peaceful. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

Six months after Dontre was killed, Flynn fired the 38-year-old Manney, which made him the department’s first officer ever fired for contributing to a person’s death in the line of duty. The chief made it clear Manney’s dismissal was not due to excessive use of force, but for failure to adhere to department search procedures when he approached Dontre. According to an investigation conducted by the state Division of Criminal Investigation, Manney approached Hamilton and conducted an “impromptu and unlawful pat-down.”

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Barbara Beckert is the Milwaukee director of Disability Rights Wisconsin and the coordinator of the Milwaukee Mental Health Task Force. She believes if Manney had been trained properly, he would not have patted down Hamilton, which could have spared his life. One of the two officers who first approached Hamilton was certified in crisis intervention. Manney was not.

The task force was formed in 2004 after a Hmong man with paranoid schizophrenia was shot and killed by Milwaukee police. Since then, at least seven others with documented, severe mental illness, including Hamilton, have reportedly died after confrontations with Milwaukee police.

The Milwaukee Mental Health Task Force is asking that more police officers and Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputies complete a 40-hour training program so they receive Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) certification. Currently, about one in five MPD officers have completed the training.

“We are determined that Dontre’s death be seen as a critical turning point,” Beckert says, “as the moment in which our community awakened to the still-urgent need to change the way vulnerable people are treated in our streets and in our parks.”

In December, Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett announced that all Milwaukee police officers would begin CIT training in 2015.

Days later, on Dec. 22, nearly nine months after Dontre’s death, Chisholm announced he would not criminally charge Christopher Manney, calling the officer’s shooting justifiable self-defense. “I can be deeply aware of the very real historical reasons for concern,” Chisholm said at the time, “but I cannot be swayed by passion or prejudgment when making these decisions, regardless of how popular or how unpopular that decision is.”

The day the Hamilton family finally learned of the DA’s decision, the city braced for riots. A staging area was quickly assembled under a freeway overpass west of the Downtown train station, with unmarked police cars, vans, buses, squads, mobile jails, rapid response vehicles and horse trailers at the ready. Downtown businesses told employees to move their cars off the street. And area hospitals went on high alert for patients in need of treatment for tear gas exposure.

All of the preparations were for naught. The family held a news conference on the federal courthouse stairs. Nate Hamilton, who has emerged as the family spokesman, asked for calm and called on the people in power to create change. Dameion and Maria stood quietly, tears rolling down their faces as Nate spoke. In the end, the family peacefully walked the streets of the city with their devoted followers for nearly six hours.

It was a cold and rainy evening, and at 5:45 p.m., the family sent out thank-yous via social media, saying they would reconvene the next morning.

 

Officer Christopher Manney had six citizen complaints filed against him during his career with the Milwaukee Police Department, ranging from a dispute over a traffic ticket to harassment and excessive force. In 2006, he received accolades for disarming a homeless man who was pointing a fake gun at him. At the time, a police spokeswoman said, Manney didn’t know the gun was fake and he would have been justified using deadly force, but instead used “extreme restraint.”

Before Hamilton was killed, Flynn had never met Manney. He was one of 1,867 police officers in the department. “He’s an officer that did some good things, and he’s an officer that had some questionable judgments – if I had to say, he’s probably somewhere in the broad middle,” Flynn says. “We don’t punish people. We punish conduct.”

Flynn calls the DA’s decision to not charge Manney sensible. “There seems to be some sensibility [across the country] that every time a copper makes an error in judgment, we must go to prison,” Flynn says. “We employ violence as an intrinsic part of our responsibility to the public, just as much as the military does. Sometimes we are going to be wrong. What is the appropriate punishment? Administrative sanction and civil process? Or jail? Because if it’s only jail, who is going to be a cop?”

Manney declined to speak with Milwaukee Magazine. But days after firing Manney, Flynn received a four-page letter written by Manney, explaining why he patted down Dontre, and the fear he felt before the shooting.

When he arrived at Red Arrow Park, he wrote, Dontre was lying on his back, with his arms at his sides, hands turned up, eyes closed, and one leg bent at the knee and rapidly twitching back and forth. Suddenly, his eyes popped open.

“The subject was fixated on me with a stare that made me feel as if he was looking through me and wanting to hurt me, also well-known in the law enforcement field as the ‘1,000 yard stare,’ which included no blinking,” Manney wrote.

Manney said he sized up Dontre when he stood and thought he was “significantly younger and very muscular… I do not consider myself to be in particularly good physical shape or as strong and as muscular as the subject,” he said, adding that he believed Dontre was homeless.

“I know that most homeless people that I’ve dealt with have knives on them or some kind of weapon on them to fend off other homeless persons. I felt compelled for my safety to conduct a pat-down search of Hamilton for weapons. As I attempted the pat-down, my fears that Hamilton wanted to hurt me came to fruition and I was viciously attacked by him and eventually forced to defend my life with my service weapon.”

Since the shooting, Manney said he has been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. His South Side home, a partial-brick, one-story house, has had police protection.

Mike Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, didn’t know Manney before the shooting. But he now meets with him regularly. For Manney, some days are better than others, but no days are great, Crivello says.

“We can all imagine how difficult this has been for the Hamilton family, but I would also ask that people realize that this is extremely difficult for the police family – for Chris and his children,” Crivello says.

“Chris’ goal was to impact life to the positive on that day, and instead, he was forced into a situation that had a negative effect on a mom and a brother and a community,”
Crivello says. “That has had an impact on him because he absolutely cares.”

Crivello supports Manney’s appeal of his firing. But he doubts Manney is in the right state of mind to take his job back if it is offered to him.

 

A few weeks before Christmas, Maria and Nate Hamilton stood in the Walker’s Point Tannery building to accept an award from Mental Health America of Wisconsin for their advocacy work on behalf of Dontre.

During the short ceremony, Maria stood arm-in-arm with Brenda Wesley, outreach coordinator at the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Greater Milwaukee. Wesley herself received the same award the previous year and has become very close to Maria since Dontre’s shooting.

Wesley’s 35-year-old son suffers from mental illness and was incarcerated in Chicago before being sent to a treatment facility in North Carolina. She says had things gone differently during his encounter with police, she would be standing in Maria’s shoes.

Wesley and other mental health leaders have embraced Maria, who has become an adjunct member of the Milwaukee Mental Health Task Force. Those bonds and weekly counseling sessions have kept the grieving mother going.

Martina Gollin-Graves, president and CEO of Mental Health America Wisconsin, said the Hamilton family was an easy choice for 2014’s award.

“We all have opinions about this, but part of the story is he struggled with mental illness,” Gollin-Graves said. “We’ve been able to talk with the family and find out what led to this horrible tragedy in terms of access to service and gaps in service, and it’s helping us find out how we can make things better moving forward.”

The night the family was honored, Nate vowed to continue to fight for mental health until the last person who needs services is helped.

“We need to value people and stand by them,” he said. “We intend to stand by our community and the people who are suffering on a day-to-day basis.”

On that last day of April in 2014, four minutes after officer Christopher Manney encountered a sleeping Dontre Hamilton, a police dispatcher contacted the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office to report a shooting death in Red Arrow Park.

Whether it was Hamilton or Manney who reacted in self defense during the confrontation that followed is still debatable. But the actions within those four minutes set off a chain of losses – a young man’s life, a family’s son and brother, an officer’s career and reputation, and a tangible measure of trust of the city’s authorities.

The aftermath resonates almost a year later.

Attorney Jonathan Safran continues to work the Hamilton case. He has met with members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI agents, who are investigating possible civil rights violations by Manney. Once the criminal investigations are complete, the family will likely file a civil suit against the city. Meanwhile, the Fire and Police Commission has not yet ruled on Manney’s appeal to find out if he will get his job back with the Milwaukee Police Department.

Since his brother’s death, Nate Hamilton continues to serve as the family spokesman, pushing people to create positive change. “They just need to be turned on, and injustice should turn on the switch,” Nate says. “Racial profiling, segregation, police brutality; this should all activate the intentions of people wanting a better society.”

Maria Hamilton has founded Mothers for Justice United, which describes itself as a group for mothers whose unarmed children have been killed by police officers and white vigilantes. Maria hopes to eventually create a foundation in Dontre’s name as a way to give back to the people who have helped her heal.

With the rest of his family, Dameion Perkins continues to grieve. “Every day is a challenge to not be angry,” he says. “If you’ve ever been hit unexpectedly and lost your breath, that is how this situation is. Every day, you have to continue with the loss of your brother.”

Dontre Hamilton would have turned 32 on Jan. 20. He is buried in the far northwest corner of Graceland Cemetery on North 43rd Street in Milwaukee. A broken Christmas ornament and a tiny frozen Christmas tree lie on the ground near a raised pile of dirt that marks his grave. So far, there is no headstone.

Corrinne Hess is a Milwaukee-area freelancer. Write to her at letters@milwaukeemag.com.

Author Corrinne Hess appears on WUWM’s “Lake Effect” March 4 at 10 a.m.

 

‘A City’s Tragedy’ appears in the March, 2015, issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
Find the issue on newsstands on Monday, March 2.
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