Graham Kilmer

Dontre Hamilton Memorial Unveiled

A memorial bench for Black man killed by police officer installed in Red Arrow Park.

By - May 3rd, 2022 10:16 am

Dontre Hamilton Memorial bench. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A memorial for Dontre Hamilton was unveiled in Red Arrow Park Saturday.

Hamilton, who suffered from schizophrenia, was killed in the park in 2014 by Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney. He’d been sleeping on a bench when he was woken up by Manney. There was a struggle between Hamilton and the officer that began after an “out of policy pat-down” as then Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn described it, and Manney shot him 14 times, killing him.

The new memorial is a park bench. It’s dedicated to the memory of Hamilton and to raising awareness of mental health needs in the city. It was unveiled over the weekend on April 30, the eighth anniversary of Hamilton’s death.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Sequanna Taylor authored a resolution in April 2021 that funded the memorial bench for Hamilton. In 2015, former supervisor and current alderman Khalif Rainey sponsored a resolution that created a task force to plan a memorial for Hamilton in the park. The idea for the memorial bench came out of a meeting with the Hamilton family a year later.

The Hamilton family has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first families in Milwaukee to lead marches against police killings and brutalities in the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I never wanted to be an activist,” said Maria Hamilton, Dontre’s mother, at the unveiling Saturday. “I only wanted to be a person who loved and cared for others.”

This sentiment, that Dontre’s killing thrust upon the Hamilton family a responsibility they never wanted, was echoed by her son Nate Hamilton.

Both Maria and Nate spoke to the profound impact the years since Dontre’s killing have had on their lives. They talked about the community of people and activists that sprang up around them to fight for justice for them, and other families that lost loved ones to police killings.

“I lost a son, but I gained hundreds and hundreds of human beings as my family,” Maria said. “Y’all strengthened me.”

As Nate put it, the family was never fighting for a bench in Red Arrow Park. But they nonetheless supported a memorial for Dontre, and one that also sought to raise awareness of the challenge that mental health can have for individuals and communities.

Nate told the crowd that he saw Dontre in a dream the night before, and that when he realized what he was seeing wasn’t real, he woke up. “We shouldn’t have to continue to dream about our loved ones,” he said.

Taylor said at the unveiling that the Hamiltons have become family to her, as they have to many others, and that it was Dontre’s tragic death that brought them together. Taylor praised the Hamilton family for going above what might be expected of people who suffered what they did. “Y’all didn’t have to stay and fight for a city where your brother died,” she said.

“Maria stood strong,” Taylor continued, “and a lot of times we say that she’s so strong, but we never let her be vulnerable. We never let her cry, because she continues to take up a fight that necessarily didn’t have to be hers. A fight that we continue to have in Milwaukee when we talk about the death of young black men and young black women, that are doing absolutely nothing, sitting inside of a park that is open for our community.”

County Executive David Crowley said the unveiling Saturday was “also an opportunity to recognize how this family has continued to use this death to inspire others.”

“They will not allow Dontre’s death to be in vain,” he said.

Along with Crowley and Taylor, the Hamilton family was joined Saturday by a number of elected and government officials from the city, county and state.

The plaque on Dontre’s memorial bench reads:

“Dontre Hamilton was a man given to us to inspire, motivate, encourage, strengthen, love and so much more.

Every day he continues to manifest within our lives, to keep us united and strong not only as a community but as a family, to uplift us to continue our fight towards justice.

We also have used Dontre’s name to shed light on the difficulties we face around mental health issues.

We can challenge Milwaukee to be better educated and informed on how to bring more consciousness in supporting those who deal with mental health.”

Categories: MKE County, Weekly

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