Early Monday morning, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced, in a press conference, that his office will not bring any charges against ex-Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney in the April shooting death of Dontre Hamilton. Chisholm also released the official report — an independent investigation months in the making — on the shooting that occurred in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park downtown.
According to accounts, Hamilton, a 31-year-old black man with a history of mental illness, was sleeping on a park bench — after already having been deemed no danger by two officers who responded to a call — when Manney approached and began a patdown of Hamilton. Manney was fired in October after Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn determined that Manney’s conduct — the unprovoked patdown, in particular — violated department procedures. A scuffle ensued and, in the process, Hamilton relieved Manney of his baton, striking the officer in the neck. The extent of both Manney’s and Hamilton’s injuries stemming from the initial confrontation continue to remain in question. Multiple eyewitness accounts leave no question what ensued: Manney drew his weapon and fired “multiple shots” — 14, in all — killing Hamilton. According to the autopsy results, half of the bullets that hit Hamilton came from a downward direction and one hit him in the back.
In the press conference, Chisholm said that Manney’s use of force was justified, based on self-defense, because he, “was exposed to reasonable risk of death or great bodily harm.”
“[Police] are allowed to employ force to stop the threat,” said Chisholm. “As long as the threat is present, they are authorized to use force.”
In a press conference following the announcement, the Hamilton Family, community leaders — including local representatives from the ACLU and NAACP — and other supporters responded to the decision from the steps of the Federal Courthouse on Wisconsin Avenue downtown.
James Hall, president of the Milwaukee NAACP, addressed the crowd, saying, “He was well within his rights to be in the park, he was not engaged in any wrongful conduct. This outcome, with regard to Mr. Hamilton, hearkens back to the days of Jim Crow, when a black life could be taken with impunity. This decision, along with the decisions in Ferguson and in New York City, have caused many in our society, across racial lines, to question our system of justice. Quite frankly, this decision by DA Chisholm has further called into question the issue of whether there is an inherent conflict with district attorneys investigating police officers in addition to the question, more broadly, of whether the grand jury system has outlived its usefulness in this day and time.”
Hall’s comments strike a chord in the wake of similar decisions by grand juries in Ferguson and New York City that chose not to indict white police officers in cases involving the deaths of two unarmed black males, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
“The whole system has a mental problem.” — Nate Hamilton
While supporting the right of those frustrated by the decision to protest but calling for those protests to remain peaceful, Hall also invoked the cases of Rodney King and, locally, of Frank Jude in asking U.S. Attorney James L. Santelle and the United States Justice Department to open and conduct a “separate, thorough investigation” of the events surrounding Hamilton’s death, which Nate Hamilton, Dontre’s brother, echoed.
“We done cryin’,” said Hamilton. “The injustice stops. We’re not gonna cover up injustice with our tears, we’re not gonna be laid-back and stay sheltered from justice — we deserve justice. Justice is our right. You know, my family—I love my family, I love my brother. This is a fight that we are gonna endure, we’re gonna stay strong, we’re not gonna waver, we’re not gonna let it pass, we’re not gonna turn our backs no more. That’s what they waitin’ for, for us to turn our backs, for us to not look, for us not to see what’s really goin’ on. So, we must wake the people up. We must show ’em that injustice does exist.”
But, in response to people calling for “calm,” Hamilton did not mince words. “Today, we activate the power of the people, all people far and wide — come out, let’s stand together, let’s unite,” he said. “The people have been calm. The people have not stood up. So, when will we stand up?”
After the press conference, supporters took to the streets, marching west to chants of “Dontre Hamilton,” “Whose Streets? Our Streets,” and “No Justice, No Compromise.”
Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Santelle announced there would be a federal review of the case by the Department of Justice.