Demonstrators call for peace but warn that Milwaukee isn't immune to Missouri-type unrest

  • Article by: DINESH RAMDE , Associated Press
  • Updated: August 25, 2014 - 8:32 PM

MILWAUKEE — Scores of demonstrators marched through downtown Milwaukee on Monday, railing against a pair of recent officer-involved shootings in Wisconsin and Missouri and calling upon federal officials to investigate police brutality against minorities across the nation.

The protesters included the family of Dontre Hamilton, a 31-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a white Milwaukee police officer four months ago. The officer's name hasn't been released, and details of the investigation have been kept secret while prosecutors decide whether to charge the officer.

Hamilton's family said they're still angry over the lack of transparency. Nate Hamilton, Dontre's 32-year-old brother, said they hoped to meet with police Chief Ed Flynn on Monday but felt disrespected when he sent two police captains in his stead.

Hamilton said they wanted Flynn to tell them the officer's name. They also want the chief to defend the version of events he gave in the hours after the shooting, in which he said the officer fired in self-defense after Dontre Hamilton beat him in the head with the officer's baton.

The family had been given limited access last month to the officer's injury photos, and said the only wound they saw was a small cut on his finger.

"We're not going to take this disrespect and stay peaceful," he told the crowd.

Afterward, he told The Associated Press the family doesn't want to see violence erupt in the city, but said he was afraid the community might be reaching its breaking point.

A number of speakers said the conditions that sparked violence in Ferguson, Missouri, this month also exist in Milwaukee. They said both cities have large black populations largely policed by white officers, and both have seen longstanding patterns of police abuse against minorities.

The Missouri unrest began after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, on Aug. 9. His death fueled nearly two weeks of sometimes-violent street protests, and his funeral Monday in St. Louis drew more than 4,500 mourners.

Demonstrators in Milwaukee organized three rallies in the last eight days, in memory of Brown and Hamilton. The first rally blocked traffic briefly and the second evolved into an hours-long sit-in at the Milwaukee Municipal Court building.

On Monday, about 100 protesters gathered at the park where Hamilton was shot, and marched to the federal courthouse several blocks away. Uniformed officers accompanied them in squad cars and on motorcycles and bicycles, diverting traffic and allowing the marchers to move unimpeded.

While all three rallies have all been peaceful, several speakers cautioned that community members are being pushed to their limits.

One speaker was Craig Stingley, a black man whose 16-year-old son Corey died in 2012 after three white men restrained him in a convenience store where he'd been suspected of shoplifting alcohol. Prosecutors didn't charge the men, saying there wasn't enough evidence to prove they intended to kill Corey or knew their actions could lead to death.

Stingley said the system is "set up for black lives to be taken legally," and he won't rest until that system is changed.

"Don't think the violence, the disruption, the unrest and destruction in Ferguson can't happen here," he said. "Don't think the anger there is different than the anger here."

A number of speakers called on police to release the name of the officer who killed Dontre Hamilton. They noted that Ferguson police took six days to release the name of the officer who killed Brown, but Hamilton's family has been waiting for four months.

Police have said the Milwaukee officer's name will be released after prosecutors decide whether to charge him. Jonathan Safran, an attorney for Hamilton's family, said he was told that decision could still take two weeks or more.

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