The Milwaukee Common Council has approved a $2.3 million settlement for the young son of Dontre Hamilton, the 31-year-old black man who, on April 30, 2014, had been sleeping on a park bench when, after a brief encounter, then-Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher E. Manney shot him 14 times, claiming self-defense.
Red Arrow Park, where Hamilton was killed, is next to City Hall.
“I walked right past him,” Milwaukee Alderman Cavalier Johnson, speaking before the vote during the May 31 City Council meeting, said of seeing Hamilton, NBC News reports. “For me, it’s always weighed on me.”
Alderman Bob Donovan abstained from voting.
“For me to vote in favor of this, I’d feel that somehow I would be saying, and I would be contributing to the belief, that Officer Manney did something wrong,” Donovan said. “And I simply don’t believe that.”
As The Root previously reported, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn fired Manney, then 38, after the incident for not following departmental procedure. According to Flynn, less than two hours before Hamilton’s fatal encounter with Manney, two police officers had already checked on Hamilton’s welfare at the request of an employee at a nearby Starbucks.
The responding officers were able to engage Hamilton using their departmental procedures for dealing with an “emotionally disturbed person.”
“[Those] officers found no cause for additional police action,” Flynn said.
Manney was allegedly unaware that the officers had already responded to the call when he approached Hamilton armed not only with his service weapon but also with “assumptions about his mental state and housing status,” Flynn said. “Manney treated Hamilton as a dangerous criminal instead of following his training and treating him as an emotionally disturbed person.”
Read: He treated him like a dangerous black man, not someone whom he needed to protect and serve.
During a 2016 radio interview, Manney said that he couldn’t be racist because his nanny is a person of color.
“Everyone says I’m this huge racist guy, but my nanny is Puerto Rican and Mexican. My kids are of a different race,” said Manney to WISN’s Dan O’Donnell.
Hamilton’s family released the following statement:
The pursuit of this case would not have occurred without the heroic and motivating efforts of the Hamilton family. It was the product of the capacity of Nate Hamilton, Jr., Dameion Perkins, the Coalition for Justice, and their supporters, to communicate their demand for justice in a peaceful and nonviolent manner. It was also the result of the efforts of the Mothers for Justice United, founded by Maria Hamilton. And it happened because the citizens of Milwaukee demanded equality and accountability for Dontre Hamilton’s death.
This settlement would not have occurred without the fact that policymakers and courts recognized that former Milwaukee Police Department Officer Manney violated Dontre Hamilton’s constitutional rights by conducting an illegal pat-down search, which started a chain of events that resulted in the tragic death of Dontre Hamilton. The settlement is a recognition and partial accountability of the violation, and reminds us that no parent, sibling, or child should have to endure such a loss.
Despite the fact that the Hamilton family lost Dontre, they want the community to continue to work with police departments and build relations that encourage the community to trust police officers and feel safe. We must all be assured that when constitutional violations and injuries occur at the hands of law enforcement, every police officer and every citizen will demand accountability and change.
The Hamilton family insists that if more evidence is revealed in the future, Officer Manney should be subjected to the same criminal prosecution as that of any other citizen who unjustifiably took a human life.
This settlement will not bring Dontre Hamilton back, but his legacy will live on and hopefully protect others. The Hamilton family hopes that the community will learn from these events, and that the healing process will continue. Maria Hamilton will continue her work with Mothers for Justice United. Maria Hamilton, Nate Hamilton, Jr., Nate Hamilton, Sr., and Dameion Perkins remain committed to locating and eradicating the injustices which have led to so many needless instances throughout our country that took the lives of citizens, and they will keep fighting for the day when people of all colors can feel as valid and safe as any other.
Maria Hamilton, Nate Hamilton, Jr., Nate Hamilton, Sr., Dameion Perkins and Dontre Hamilton’s son are thankful for the support which they have received over the last three-plus years.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said that he will likely approve the settlement, but he has to check the budget.
“In all likelihood, I will sign it,” Barrett said. “But I wanna obviously do our due diligence and look at the file to make sure that the money is being used appropriately.”
Yet, for 2017, Barrett had no problem allocating a “$25 million boost in spending on police, up to $302 million, which would make it 9% higher than last year’s police budget,” the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported.
The Milwaukee Police Department has a long documented history of white supremacist state violence against the black community in the city, yet police brutality continues to occur with regularity. There is no financial divestment from the Police Department, and the city’s taxpayers continue to pay the bill.
“That’s why these enormous financial penalties do not seem to actually impact what police do,” said David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in criminal-justice issues. “Conceivably, if cities didn’t want this to happen, they could say this will come out of your [police] budget.”
With a mayor who is trying to decide if $2.3 million is a doable settlement when a police officer gets away with murder, an alderman who feels that Manney did nothing wrong and a police chief who feels that Hamilton’s shooting was justified even if the initial search was not, police brutality in Milwaukee will continue to be an issue, just as it is all over this country.
Still...when all the calculations are done and the documents are signed, there will remain that gaping, empty space where a loved one once lived. There will still be a killer walking free.
There is no budget for that.