A park bench outside a downtown Starbucks is no longer a place of grief for Dontre Hamilton’s family and a scar for the city of Milwaukee.
On Saturday, eight years to the day since Hamilton was woken up sleeping on the bench and shot 14 times by a Milwaukee police officer, the Red Arrow Park bench became a place of hope.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony, dozens of friends, family and community leaders came together to unveil a memorial bench they hope will spark conversations about mental health and lead to change. significant.
A plaque centered on the back of the bench indicates:
“Whose Hamilton was a man given to us to inspire, motivate, encourage, strengthen, love and so much more. Every day he continues to manifest in our lives, to keep us united and strong not only as a community but as a family, to uplift us, to continue our fight for justice. We’ve also used Dontre’s name to shed light on the struggles we face around mental health issues. We can challenge Milwaukee to be better educated and informed on how to raise awareness of those dealing with mental health.
Hamilton suffered from mental illness and his family members said he did not receive the support he needed from Milwaukee County Mental Health Services. And the policeman who killed him was not trained enough to approach people who might suffer from mental illness.
Hamilton’s mother, Maria Hamilton, told the racially diverse crowd that seeing the community come together over the years to fight for justice filled her heart with joy.
“I lost a son but gained hundreds and hundreds of human beings as a family,” she said. “You all strengthen me.”
She also said Milwaukee and the country must do more to address racial injustice and protect people with mental illness.
“Every time we start to feel better, there are more murders,” she said. “It keeps happening.”
Milwaukee County Supervisor Sequanna Taylor, one of the main sponsors of county legislation supporting the provision of the $3,000 bench, said the Hamilton family wanted the bench to be a place of healing for a city in trouble.
“It’s a bench to commemorate her son but by no means this justice for her son’s life,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Standing around talking before the ceremony, longtime Milwaukee resident Xavier Thomas noticed what sounded like police sirens in the neighborhood.
“I think we’ll be done with this when that sound doesn’t shake my knees and scare me,” said Thomas, who is black. “He’s a paramedic and all the black people here broke their necks to turn around and watch.”
Equally disturbing to Thomas is what his young son says during imaginary play time.
“What’s crazy is my 4-year-old says ‘the police are coming for you’. I’m like ‘where did you learn that?’
County Executive David Crowley said the Hamilton family’s continued focus on the issue of mental health and justice over the years has had a positive impact on the community.
“This is a time not only to remember his death and to acknowledge the many injustices and disparities that we continue to see not only in our own community but across the country, it is also a time to recognize how this family continued to use this death to inspire others,” Crowley said. “They will not allow Dontre’s death to be in vain.”
Police officer Christopher Manney was fired after Hamilton’s murder.
Manney’s use of lethal force was deemed justified by then-Police Chief Edward Flynn, but Flynn fired him for violating two department rules regarding when to initiate a pat-down and the how to approach people at risk of mental illness.
Manney appealed his dismissal and tried unsuccessfully for several years to regain his job.
After:Dontre Hamilton memorial bench approved by Milwaukee County Board following tense debate