Who is watching out for the next Dontre Hamilton?

Much of the news regarding the killing of Dontre Hamilton in the last 24 hours has been focused on responsibilities and authority.  This needed to be done but the challenge of one man being killed by another man seems no closer to resolution than it was at 4:00 PM on April 30, 2014.Implicit in the statements I heard was the reoccurring theme:  this is what we have responsibility for and authority over, the rest is up to an unidentified someone else.  

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm provided a long and comprehensive explanation of the investigation his office conducted into the death of Dontre Hamilton on April 30, 2014.  It was clear in his presentation that he was aware of the responsibility and limits of authority of his office and the tragedy that has taken place here in Milwaukee.  As I listened I became very aware that I was listening to a report designed to illuminate a small piece of this tragedy with no expectation of providing closure to the whole of the situation.

Another press conference held shortly after the District Attorney concluded illuminated the large gap that must be closed before the term “justice has been served” can be applied.”  I heard two interesting points while listening to this second press conference.  The first was made by a member of the Hamilton family.  He pointed out that it is not the responsibility of the Hamilton family to keep the peace.  It truly is a bizarre practice to kill people’s family members and then expect them to be peacemakers after announcing no wrong doing was done in the death of their loved one.  It was also pointed out that Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney has not apologized for Hamilton’s death.  While this may be true I am sure the officer’s lawyers have advised him not to make any statement until all legal proceedings are completed.  It is in this legally astute silence that police officers are demonized.  We actually have no idea how Manney feels about the circumstances surrounding the death of Dontre Hamilton.


In listening to the press conferences and reading statements from various elected and appointed officials the theme of limited responsibilities and authority is repeated over and over again.  Each speaker tells their story from their corner of the room and then proclaims “that’s all I have” and moves on.  What I suspect will happen is a coalition of citizen groups will gather to take on the responsibility of addressing the question of how do we avoid the killing of the next Dontre Hamilton and the one after that and the one after that.  That coalition may very well develop profound insights that would move us all forward.  Unfortunately, the coalition will likely lack the authority to affect public policy in a significant way.  They will share their insights, proclaim “that’s all we have” and we will all move on.

One thought on “Who is watching out for the next Dontre Hamilton?”

  1. Prevention is challenging because it is so diffuse. Prevention is possible in so many tiny ways in so many interactions. And just like preventing heart disease, prevention starts early on. So prevention starts in K-12 classrooms in which teachers and students critically analyze race-based social processes with humility and courage.

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