Nate Hamilton sat in his living room, smashed a cigarette into a glass ash tray, and spoke purposefully about his 31-year-old brother, Dontre, who died last year after being shot 14 times by a Milwaukee police officer during a struggle over the officer’s baton.
“I loved my brother and what happened to Dontre shouldn’t happen to anyone else,” Hamilton, 33, said, while holding a program from Dontre’s funeral. “We shouldn’t be racially profiled because racial profiling often leads to death.”
African-Americans were outraged about Dontre’s death and remain frustrated with Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn’s “stop and frisk” policy.
Flynn’s policy has driven a sharp wedge between the police and the African-American community where an already fragile relationship exists in a city that is 40 percent black. Four words seem to echo through Milwaukee’s African-American neighborhood whenever a squad car is rolling: Excessive use of force.
Civil rights activists accuse Flynn of being racially insensitive; African-American mothers said they are tired of police harassing and killing their sons; and 99 percent of the city’s police union members said they have absolutely no confidence in Flynn’s leadership.
Tory Lowe, 39, an outspoken civil rights activist, points to recent cases as evidence of problems.
Four Milwaukee police officers were charged in 2012 with felonies related to illegal rectal searches of suspects that spanned a two-year period. In one case an officer allegedly held a gun to a man’s head as two others held his arms and a third put him in a choke hold while jamming a hand into his anus, while allegedly searching for evidence.
“Milwaukee is the worst city in America for black people,” Lowe said. “I don’t know how it got this way, but we need to fix it.”
In another case, a federal jury awarded 40-year-old Leo Hardy $500,000 last year stemming from a 2012 traffic stop where the court ruled his arrest was illegal. The case is the first of several federal suits to reach a Milwaukee jury involving alleged improper strip searches.
At least 60 others have accused Milwaukee police of conducting illegal strip searches from 2008 to 2012. Civil rights activists argue that white men in Milwaukee are rarely – if ever – subjected to being strip-searched while African-American men are repeatedly emasculated on the city’s streets.
Flynn compared Milwaukee’s gun problems to New York where New York City Police Department confiscated about 1,350 firearms last year in a city of 9 million and the Milwaukee Police Department – a city of 600,000 — seized 1,340 firearms.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has got Flynn’s back.
“I support the police chief,” Barrett told Urban News Service. Barrett prefers to call the pat-down policy a “pro-active policing program.”
Barrett said the number of police stops have increased, but the number of arrests have not gone up and, the number of civilian complaints have not risen either.
“I need this to be a city where people respect the police and police respect the residents,” he said.
Meanwhile, inside a small radio studio that overlooks Capitol Avenue in one of Milwaukee’s toughest African-American neighborhoods, Sherwin Hughes, 40, is host of the daily talk show “The Forum” on WNOV-AM, where listeners complain about Flynn’s police department.
“I hear from people complaining about police brutality, stop and frisk, strip searches of black men; some terrible things are happening to people,” said Hughes, who has been on the air for three years.
“But I also hear people asking for more police presence.”
Flynn isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In a unanimous decision, The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission recently re-appointed Flynn to a third four-year term.
“I recognize that even if it’s a vote of confidence, it really comes with an expectation that we’re going to continue to improve, and we’re going to get ahold of the challenges that face us right now,” Flynn told reporters last month.
But African-American residents like Nate Hamilton are not convinced, considering what happened to his brother, Dontre on April 14, 2014.
Dontre was sitting in a park in downtown Milwaukee when then- Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney approached Hamilton. Manney struggled with Hamilton and Dontre took Manney’s baton. Manney said he felt threatened and shot Dontre 14 times until he was dead.
Hamilton said Manney held a strong bias against citizens who are destitute and shot his brother because Manney believed – wrongly – that Dontre was homeless. Flynn eventually fired Manney for an illegal pat-down, or frisk, but he was not charged in connection with the shooting.
“We need to raise the level of accountability in the police department,” he said.
Hamilton, who owns his own home improvement company, said his brother, Dontre, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had not taken his medication the day he was approached by Manney.
“I believe he [Manney] has a problem with homeless people,” Hamilton said. “But did he have to shoot my brother 14 times. We need to change the culture of the police department… I want Donte’s memory to produce unity in our community so we hold the police accountable,” he said, “and hold ourselves accountable, too.”