Under grey skies with a chilling rain failing, a crowd gathered Sunday at Washington Park in Milwaukee for an emotional ceremony memorializing many of the young men of color killed in encounters with law enforcement officers.
Hugs were shared and tears shed as the families of many of those who lost their lives came together at the park’s bandshell to share stories of profound loss and lingering grief.
“Not one of these families has seen justice, but all of these families have gone through a similar pain,” said Mariah Smith, an organizer with The Peoples Revolution, which has led Milwaukee’s long-sustained protest movement.
Smith paused to acknowledge those who joined her on the bandshell’s stage.
“It hurts my heart to just be in the presence of these families,” Smith said.
The Washington Park ceremony served as the kick-off event of a weeklong series of marches, rallies and calls to action to mark the one-year anniversary of the daily protests that have occurred in Milwaukee under the direction of The People’s Revolution. The group first took to the streets in the days after George Floyd died under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, in a case that sparked nationwide outrage against racial injustice and police brutality.
Among the speakers was Doretha Lock, mother of Christopher Davis, a 21-year-old Black man shot and killed by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy during a botched staged drug buy in February 2016 in the parking lot of a restaurant in the Town of East Troy.
Lock said she remembers as a child hearing about the death of 22-year-old Ernest Lacy, a Black man who died in the custody of Milwaukee Police in 1981. She said she couldn’t have imagined that she would someday be forced to deal with the same pain the Lacy family experienced more than four decades ago.
“I didn’t think it was real until it knocked on my door,” Lock said. A large photo of her son was placed on the bandshell’s stage with a bouquet of flowers on either side.
With tears welling in her eyes and her voice choked with emotion, Lock said hearing those who gathered on Sunday repeatedly chant her son’s name provides some solace and makes her feel as though he’s “still alive.”
“You bring justice for him,” Lock said.
Davis’ name appeared with more than 30 others on a banner placed on the bandshell’s wall.
Nate Hamilton, whose brother Dontre Hamilton died after being shot 14 times by Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney at Downtown’s Red Arrow Park in 2014, said he didn’t want to come to the ceremony.
“It’s hard for me to look at other families and see their hurt,” Hamilton said softly while standing near a large photo of his brother and a placard that read: “We still want justice.”
Hamilton serves as chairman of the Community Collaborative Commission, a group consisting of Black and Brown leaders working to create stronger relationships between police and the public.
Continuing to hear his brother’s name chanted by the crowd on Sunday still stings for Hamilton.
“It’s hard to hear your loved one’s name when there’s some sort of injustice tied to it,” he said.
Activist Kamila Ahmed called on the crowd to avoid complacency and continue to fight for change.
“I’m asking you to get mad, get angry, get pissed,” Ahmed said, her voice rising. “This shouldn’t be real life.”
Smith said the growing list of people of color who have been killed in encounters with law enforcement officers is disturbing.
“The names go on,” Smith said. “We chant enough is enough and yet they kill another one of us. That’s why we cannot stop fighting. We’ve won a couple battles, but the war has not been won yet. Our people are still looked at as threats.”
Community activist Tiffany Henry said racial and social injustice and police brutality has been a problem for generations, long before what took place in Minneapolis late last spring.
“George Floyd wasn’t the beginning of what we’ve been seeing in America,” Henry said. “But George Floyd became a catalyst for a movement. It allowed all of us to be able to have a connection and say that there is work to be done. Today is not an honor or a celebration, but it is a call to action, from all of us.”
Henry said she feels for the families who are forced to relive the deaths of their loved ones on a daily basis.
“You have a community of people who now stand with you and for you and you don’t have to walk this walk alone,” she said.
Sunday’s event should serve as an ongoing call to action and in no way be confused for a celebration for the nearly one-year anniversary of the protest movement, Henry said.
“It’s not an opportunity to eat cake and ice cream. It’s not an opportunity to throw balloons in the air,” she said.
The conviction of Chauvin on murder and manslaughter charges stemming from Floyd’s death is “a small movement toward progress” but isn’t an end in the fight to hold law enforcement officers accountable for their actions, Henry said.
Khalil Coleman, who led The Peoples Revolution for the first several months of the protests, attended the event.
“It’s beautiful. These are people who are changing the world,” Coleman said as he watched the crowd arrive at Washington Park. “These are everyday people coming out here and saying we really have to do something. They have been able to sustain the protest for almost 365 days.”
Smith said there are no plans to halt the daily actions calling for justice and accountability any time soon
“Our fight continues. Our fight keeps going,” Smith said. “Our fight is not going to stop until we get justice. We can’t be gunned down and then swept under the rug.”
Undeterred by the rain, the crowd took to the streets after the ceremony and marched into the night through Milwaukee’s West Side and neighboring communities.