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Some Milwaukeeans Believe New Civil Rights Movement is Underway as MLK Remembered

LaToya Dennis

On this Monday, the U.S. honors civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior. Since King Day last year, the police killings of several African American men, have raised new demands for racial justice. The incidents have spurred huge, ongoing demonstrations – including in Milwaukee. Some people have refer to them as, the new civil rights movement.

It’s a weekday evening and Maria Hamilton is setting out snacks—apples, bananas and water at All Peoples Church on Milwaukee’s north side. She’s preparing for a biweekly meeting of the Coalition for Justice. It formed, after a police officer shot and killed Hamilton’s son, Dontre, in Red Arrow Park downtown.

“Me and my family are determined that I’m not leaving here. That was my first choice when Dontre was murdered--to move out of Wisconsin. But that’s not a cure because we have a national issue,” Hamilton says.

Maria admits that before her son’s death…

“If it didn’t affect my family, my household I didn’t care to be involved. I would sit in my space and just overlook it,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton says now that’s she’s painfully aware of injustices that exist, she’s using her platform to fight for better housing and educational opportunities for minority kids.  And she sees a movement forming because of the deaths of lots of black men, at the hands of others.

“We’re showing the nation that this is our land, and we should be able to live freely, happily, and be prosperous. We as the taxpayers and mothers and fathers, we’re responsible for our communities and we can do it as a group,” Hamilton says.

“We are passionate about finding justice in all realms of this city.”

That’s Steve Jerbi. He’s pastor of All Peoples Church.

“Economic justice, educational justice. We want to find a way forward, and with those issues a part of this movement, my members are out there marching and so we stand together,” Jerbi says.

Jerbi says if takes acts of civil disobedience to get the community’s attention, he and his congregation are okay with that.

Curtis Sails is co-founder of the local Coalition for Justice. He says that even after the Dontre Hamilton case ends, the coalition will continue.

“We’re not done until we are able to secure freedom and justice for everyone. We are talking about being here until we eradicate Racial Injustice from our police force and from the city of Milwaukee as far as our government officials are concerned,” says.

Sails says his inspiration comes from Martin Luther King Junior.

“He said I think the persistent and nagging question that we all must face is what have we done for others? My question is, what have you done for your brother? And what if it was your brother? Would you block traffic for your brother? Would you walk in the streets for your brother? Would you stand up and protest for your brother?” Sails says.

The Coalition for Justice will participate in a program this afternoon where victims of police violence will be recognized, and then march to the city’s MLK statue.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.