There has been a lot of national coverage of the killing of black men by white policemen lately: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Tamir Rice, the 12-year old in Cleveland, and Eric Garner strangled by a chokehold in New York.
Where the heck is Dontre Hamilton on this list of big stories?
There are big demonstrations in Cleveland and Ferguson and New York and in other cities around the country. Thousands of people rallying and marching and protesting over Brown, Rice and Garner.
Hamilton could in that group, as well, as a tragic symbol, like the other three, of the mutual distrust between blacks and police.
The marches over Hamilton’s death bear little or no resemblance to the overwhelming displays in other cities. We’ve had a few hundred people here and there, first until Chief Edward Flynn fired the officer, Christopher Manney. Then the protesters moved on to pressure District Attorney John Chisholm to file charges against Manney. An occasional sit-in, but that’s about it.
This is not to say he Hamilton case should get more attention, but it seems to have a lot of the criteria needed to grab the nation.
He was 31 years old with a history of mental illness. He lived on his own in a rooming house, but struggled with schizophrenia. He lay down to sleep in Red Arrow Plaza and was checked out a couple of times by police who had been called by employees at the nearby Starbucks.
Manney, who was the neighborhood cop, showed up. A confrontation ensued. Hamilton, everybody agrees, grabbed Manney’s baton. Manney said that Hamilton became combative and so he fired 14 shots into the man. Fourteen shots.
Flynn fired Manney because he didn’t follow police procedures for dealing with the mentally ill. Flynn said that Manney treated Hamilton as a dangerous criminal instead of an emotionally disturbed person.
This case now rests in Chisholm’s office and he’s a good district attorney who seems to have a strong adherence to legalities. Chisholm and his Chief Deputy Kent Lovern are not men who have political agendas. They are lawyers with the sensibilities of decent men.
But this case, like the others, is more about politics than it is about the law. If Chisholm declines to file charges we could easily see much larger demonstrations in Milwaukee. We might even get a visit from the "I never met a crisis I couldn’t take advantage of" Rev. Al Sharpton.
It would be easy to dismiss all of this as just politics but there is something much more insidious at work here. This is a community wracked by racial division. It exists on many levels, but it is nowhere more obvious or striking as the way black people feel about the police.
Milwaukee has a good police force and most of the officers are dedicated peacekeepers. But this antipathy wasn’t created as a figment of somebody’s imagination. There have to be things that have actually happened to create this climate of fear.
The police are generally defensive about their activities and black activists are generally very certain of the violations of trust they have been forced to endure. The truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle of this dispute.
But there is an opportunity here.
There could actually be some healing between the police and the black community, but the name calling has be be ratcheted down. If we could get rid of the shouting and the defensiveness we might be able to reach some kind of accommodation.
Chisholm could find a mediator to bring the cops and black leaders into the same room and start the process of knocking down some walls. I’d even volunteer to do it for free. The late Terrance Evans appointed me to mediate a very difficult dispute with the world’s largest bill collection firm and the Federal Trade Commission. I've been trained at a special program at Harvard to bring sides to some agreement.
We’ll sit in a room we and we are off and running. We c0uld do something here that hasn’t happened in other cities. With honesty from both sides, we can make this happen.
Nothing but the truth. and as we all know, "The truth shall set you free."
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.