Yet Another Troubling Decision Regarding Police Brutality in Milwaukee

Dontre Hamilton

Two days after the Twin Cities' Mall of America closed its doors after thousands showed up for a non-violent protest about police brutality and the treatment of African Americans in American society, today in what has become a distressingly regular occurrence, the Milwaukee District Attorney's Office has announced that white police officer Christopher Manney, 38, will not be prosecuted for the shooting death of 31-year-old African-American Dontre Hamilton. 

In April Manney approached the sleeping Hamilton in a Milwaukee park for a "welfare check." He did this despite the fact that police had already checked on Hamilton twice before earlier in the day and found that he was sleeping and posed no harm. Manney began a patdown on the sleeping Hamilton and, according to Manney, Hamilton reacted physically, attacking him. Manney says he tried to talk him down, and eventually pulled out his baton and tried to subdue him. When Hamilton then grabbed the baton and hit Manney in the neck with it, Manney pulled his gun and shot Hamilton 14 times. 

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A sadly familiar refrain: there are many troubling questions here. Why did Manney approach Hamilton after police had already checked on him twice already and determined he was not a problem? Massey says he heard the request for a check on his voice mail without knowing his fellow cops had already investigated, but then where was the follow through communication with the department?

Why did Manney interact with Hamilton without first waking him? Manney was in fact fired in October by the police force; his chief said Manney "failed to have reasonable suspicion that Mr. Hamilton was armed with a weapon or posed a threat to him or others prior to conducting a pat-down search, and acted contrary to training he received." 

Did these events take place in the way that Manney says? While Hamilton struggled with mental illness, he had no history of violence; in fact, other than traffic violations, he appears not to have had a record of any kind. 

And is there any world in which it's conceivable that it made sense to shoot this man 14 times? According to forensics, the shots occurred over the course of just 3 or 4 seconds, and Hamilton was approaching Manney when the shooting began. But he was at some distance; and the sheer number of shots Manney felt necessary to protect himself against a man who had only a wooden baton is hard to understand.  

And most puzzling of all, given these questions, why not at least let the case go to trial? Perhaps the report is right, and Manney's actions were somehow justified. So make that case in a court of law, where a jury of Manney's peers can decide. It's that choice, perhaps more than any other, that makes it seem like our system is rigged.

Concerned about possible reaction from the larger community, Wisconsin state governor Scott Walker has announced he has put the National Guard on stand by. That might reassure some members of the local community, but as with Ferguson, one wonders if these quick National Guard announcements don't make those grieving this decision feel like they're being treated as criminals as well. Expressed non-violently, people have a right to express their outrage and grief, and one wishes Milwaukee—or the next town—will figure out a way to allow them to do so that does not involve rows of police in riot gear. 

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