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Emotions Run High as Feds Hear Concerns About Milwaukee Police

Marti Mikkelson
People lined up to testify about Milwaukee police practices

Several hundred people packed the auditorium of Milwaukee’s Central Library Thursday night to talk about the police department’s policies and practices.

Representatives from the federal government came to listen. They’re conducting a two-year review of the force, sparked by the police shooting of Dontre Hamilton.

One of the first speakers was Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre. An officer shot and killed him during a scuffle in 2014 in a downtown park where Hamilton was resting.

Police Chief Edward Flynn fired the officer, Christopher Manney, for not following protocol in approaching a person with mental illness. The chief then requested this federal review, which will result in recommendations and monitoring. Yet Hamilton questioned its ultimate effectiveness.

“Training ain’t going to help. What they have inside of them as police officers, it’s embedded. And, if you are all going to continue to protect them and say it’s okay, and not incarcerate them, all the police officers are going to continue to keep doing what they’re doing,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton called on the federal government to conduct a harsher review, known as a pattern and practice investigation. As part of that process, the U.S. Justice Department scours a police department for racial discrimination.

Another person who spoke Thursday night was Dontre’s brother Nate Hamilton. He says he’s frustrated the family’s entire ordeal will drag on for at least another two years, and he urged the audience to oust Milwaukee’s elected leaders.

“We’ve been waiting too long, so I need you guys to work with us and make sure that they pay now. The Fire and Police Commission can change policies right now. The mayor can change the direction of the police department right now. We don’t have to wait on them. Let’s vote them out and get the people in who are going to represent us,” Hamilton says.

George Martin also stepped up to the microphone. He, like Maria Hamilton, called on the Feds to widen the scope of their review, but even more broadly.

“This investigation also needs to include conflict of interest in terms of prosecution by the district attorney, it also needs to include the grand jury system, it also needs to include an independent investigation of police killings and shootings on a timely basis,” Martin says.

While most people who spoke criticized the MPD, some defended it. Guy Gunther of Waukesha thanked officers for saving his life last September. He says they came to his aid while he was being mugged at a gas station on Milwaukee’s north side.

“I hit 9-1-1 on my phone and as I was pushed to the ground, my wallet was stolen. While I dove for my wallet, that was less than two minutes and the police were arriving in the parking lot and I am grateful for my life to the Milwaukee Police Department,” Gunther says.

Federal authorities plan to hold more listening sessions later this year. They’re expected to make recommendations in 2017 about how Milwaukee police might change department procedures.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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