By Ariele Vaccaro
“This season is a time for peace…” began Milwaukee County Health and Human Services Director H Colon to a crowd of Milwaukee residents during the 102nd Christmas Tree Lighting at Red Arrow Park this past Thursday.
The holiday event, however, began as anything but peaceful.
As the crowds gathered to see the tree’s lights flicker on, some twenty protesters belonging to the group Coalition for Justice — which formed after the April 2014 death of Dontre Hamilton by a Milwaukee police officer in Red Arrow Park — held up signs calling for a federal investigation into the practices of the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD).
Among the group was Nate Hamilton, brother of Dontre Hamilton, and Maria, mother of the two brothers. They stood at the center of the group, just in front of a stage where Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett would soon speak.
“No justice, no peace,” Nate Hamilton chanted along with other protesters into a microphone. Their calls clashed with the sounds of Christmas music resounding through loud speakers.
Not long ago, he discovered that the fired officer that shot his brother 14 times, Christopher Manney, would not face civil rights charges and that Manney would also receive duty disability retirement benefits.
“We want our city to know that we haven’t forgotten about Dontre,” said Maria Hamilton. “And we’re his voice, so when it come to the city and the total disrespect that they have given my family and all these families who have lost loved ones and not prosecuted, we’re fed up.”
By 6 p.m., Nate Hamilton had been pulled from the crowd of protesters and detained along with Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs now, and one drummer who had been keeping the beat of the coalition’s singing.
Later, some others were also detained.
Five were altogether arrested for disorderly conduct, per a Thursday report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“We do what we can to accommodate lawful assemblies,” said Flynn shortly after the arrests.
He continued, “Once they step over the line and decide to disrupt other people’s events, then they have to be arrested if they refuse to comply and they refused to comply.”
Rev. Steve Jerbi of All People’s Church, who had joined the Coalition for Justice in the Thursday protests, felt the group had acted within the law.
“I think it means that we need to continue to strive for reform in the police department, when even a peaceful assembly is not allowed. We have to ask who the agitators and instigators are,” Jerbi said.
“We came here calling for a federal investigation of the way that Milwaukee Police Department interacts with the citizens,” Jerbi continued. “And they proved the point for us.”
According to a Facebook post by Coalition for Justice, Nate Hamilton and the others arrested were released from jail early on Friday morning.
“Thanks to those who prayed, came out, brought food, water, blankets, cocoa, & those who STOOD WITH US! #SingingWhileBlack #JusticeBells #DontreHamilton,” wrote Coalition for Justice.