By Mrinal Gokhale
Many Milwaukeeans gathered outside Red Arrow Park Starbucks on the rainy day Saturday, April 30. Some were holding umbrellas, while others were letting the rain fall over them. A group of praise dancers along with some spoken word artists shared their words on the late Dontre Hamilton. Hamilton was an African American man shot to death by a Milwaukee police officer at Red Arrow Park on that same day in 2014.
“We need peace today more than anything,” said Sister Melissa Blue Muhammad.
“My city has got every reason to be crying and weeping. Just moments ago, someone was let go at a funeral,” she said. She was referring to a shooting in a Milwaukee funeral that same day.
“Even in this rain, I hope someone has that tingling feeling in their veins to be better.”
This event was known as Dontre Day, the two year anniversary of Hamilton’s death. The day started with a march from 27th and Center to Red Arrow Park. Hamilton’s mother, Maria and her two sons, Nate Hamilton and Dameion Perkins, organized the event. Upon arriving at the park, the group had 14 seconds of silence for the 14 times Hamilton had been shot.
The death of Hamilton was controversial for many reasons. Hamilton was mentally ill, and he had been sleeping on an outdoor bench at Starbucks. Allegedly, Hamilton grabbed Officer Christopher Manney’s baton to attack him while he was getting patted down. This led Manney to shoot him. Manney has since been fired, although he hasn’t been charged with civil rights violations.
Nate Hamilton and his mother have both led several marches since the incident, to bring light to police brutality. Hamilton said that Dontre Day was being held to honor his late brother. He is the founder of the Coalition for Justice, a nonprofit organization. He along with his brother, mother and many others wore blue to honor Dontre.
“We want to honor Dontre and those who have lost their lives at the hands of policemen,” Hamilton said. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Community Counseling students displayed a table for children because the event was oriented around a sensitive subject. They handed out juice boxes and fruit snacks at their table, but were also there in case anyone found the speeches and performances triggering.
“We are here to help them cope in case they feel sad or nervous, and luckily, that hasn’t happened,” said Melisa Madsen, doctoral community psychology student at UWM.
The celebration was supposed to go until 6 p.m. Performers and speakers moved to All People’s Church to finish up at about 4 p.m. due to the rain.