By Eelisa Jones
On Monday, Aug 25th at 4 P.M. about seventy people gathered at Water Street’s Red Arrow Park. Rally participants crowded around the park’s ice rink – some donning shirts with the faces of deceased loved ones, others, holding signs demanding justice – to protest the legal system’s response to the killing of African-American youth in the Milwaukee area.
Similar rallies took place on Sunday, Aug 17th and Friday, Aug 22nd as symbols of solidarity with residents of Ferguson, Missouri who were protesting the killing of 18-yearold Michael Brown.
Monday’s rally was the third August protest scheduled by the African- American Roundtable, Occupy the Hood, and Youth Empowered in Struggle.
Organizers announced that, although Michael Brown’s father had asked all protests for his son to stop for Michael’s funeral, Milwaukee’s Monday rally was to continue in honor of the Stingley and Hamilton families.
On Dec 14th, 2012, three men restrained 16-yearold Corey Stingley in a choke-hold after the teen attempted to steal alcohol from a West Allis convenience store.
The men pressed Stingley to the floor until a police officer arrived – roughly nine minutes later.
When the officer and three men noticed that the teen was no longer breathing, Stingley was sent to the hospital. He died fifteen days later of brain damage due to lack of oxygen. In January of this year – about 13 months after Stingley’s death – Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced that his office had not collected enough evidence to criminally charge the three men who had apprehended the teenager.
“Their goal was to intervene [with Stingley’s theft attempt] and hold him until the police arrived,” D.A. Chisholm said earlier this year.
“They were restraining him after what was initially a violent encounter.”
Chisholm stated that because the three men’s intention was not to harm but to restrain Stingley, they were not liable to charges. Craig Stingley – Corey Stingley’s father – spoke to rally participants and several media outlets about his frustrations with the D.A.’s decision to not file charges against the men responsible for Corey’s death.
The rallies also called attention to the killing of 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton which occurred earlier this year. Hamilton died Apr 30th at the hands of a Milwaukee Police Department officer.
According to police reports, an officer had discovered Hamilton laying on the ground. When the officer began a frisk procedure, Hamilton allegedly grabbed the officer’s baton and attacked. The officer shot Hamilton over a dozen times, killing him on-site. After Hamilton’s death, his family released information about the young man’s struggles with paranoia and schizophrenia.
The incident took place at Red Arrow Park – the starting location of the rallies. The Milwaukee District Attorney’s office has yet to release the name of the shooting officer. “The hurt never goes away,” Nate Hamilton – Dontre’s brother – told WISN 12 reporters.
“[The rally] is just me trying to place it in a positive outlet.” In his rally speeches, Nate Hamilton called for the District Attorney to release further information about his brother’s death, including the name of the officer involved.
Both Nate Hamilton and Craig Stingley raised the argument that law enforcement had taken special effort to portray slain African- American men as criminals to lessen public outrage.
They also agreed that marijuana possession had become a tool for law enforcement to unjustly harass and incarcerate members of the African- American population.
Rally participants cheered, chanted, and waved banners in support as each speaker took to the microphone.
“It’s good to personalize these tragedies so people realize it happens here and across the country,” said 44-year-old Michael Pettit, a Milwaukee native and rally participant.
Pettit had attended the previous Red Arrow rallies on Sunday, Aug 17th and Friday, Aug 22nd.
He said he found out about the rallies through Facebook.
Organizers had passed out fluorescent sheets of paper containing a list of local and national demands.
Among the demands were the immediate suspension of local law enforcement officers who are responsible for the use of excessive force and a call for U.S. General Attorney Eric Holder to launch nationwide investigations into cases of police brutality.
After about half an hour of public speech, the rally traveled to the Federal Courthouse in a unified chant that included phrases like “No justice, no peace.” and “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. These racist cops have got to go.”
Police officers on motorcycles blocked intersections as the crowd progressed South on Water St. and East on Wisconsin Ave. About 50 more protesters waited in front of the courthouse – some holding red and white candles in memory of the nation’s lost African-American lives.
On Aug 22nd, protesters had marched to the Milwaukee Municipal Court building in hopes of communicating directly with Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn. After more than an hour of occupation, Deputy Inspector Terrence Gordon and 7th District Capt. Jutiki Jackson announced law enforcement’s willingness to meet with Dontre Hamilton’s family before Monday’s rally.. They also agreed to invite Chief Flynn to the meeting.
Nate Hamilton told Monday’s crowd that Chief Flynn had not attended that day’s meeting, but had instead dispatched two captains in his place. He said that he was disappointed by Flynn’s decision.
The effectiveness of this series of rallies has yet to fully realize. Although Hamilton family members were able to speak with officials, they still have not received the answers they seek.
There also still remains the larger question of how to create communities that can trust the judgment and practices of law enforcement officials.
Craig Stingley has referred to his son’s death as a “modern day lynching.”
This phrase refers to a period of history in which justice and fairness were viewed as privileges – rather than rights – that could be systematically denied to the African-American population.
Mr. Stingley’s statement mirrors concerns that today’s African-Americans are witnessing a return to these prejudicial views.
For people like Craig Stingley, Nate Hamilton, and the many who stood alongside them at Red Arrow Park, such a return is not an option.