MILWAUKEE — A group of Milwaukee aldermen are pushing a host of police reforms after prosecutors declined to charge an officer who shot a man 14 times, including equipping police with body cameras and identifying officers prone to violence.
The plan comes as the city’s black community grapples with District Attorney John Chisholm’s decision Monday not to charge former officer Christopher Manney with any criminal wrongdoing in the death of 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton in April. Manney fatally shot Hamilton in a downtown park, emptying his service semi-automatic’s magazine into him. Manney is white; Hamilton was black.
Scores of protesters gathered at the park Tuesday evening, then marched on the Bradley Center arena — where police mounted a strong show of force — and then returned to the park. Other demonstrators staged a brief “die-in” at a busy shopping mall in suburban Wauwatosa.
Earlier in the day, Alderman Russell Stamper began a news conference to promote the reforms proposal Tuesday by saying he was disgusted with Chisholm’s decision.
“This is a sad time for our community,” Stamper said. “This situation is painful and it hurts.”
The proposal calls for spending $1 million to equip every Milwaukee officer with a body camera and creating an “early warning system” that would use citizen complaints and performance reviews to identify aggressive officers who may pose a threat to the public and get them counseling.
Also on the agenda is creating a panel to advise the police on community relations and re-evaluating diversity training for officers. The plan also calls for pushing Mayor Tom Barrett to name two more members to the Fire and Police Commission, the entity that oversees the police. The commission currently has seven members but Barrett can name up to nine.
Barrett’s chief of staff, Patrick Curley, said the mayor doesn’t oppose the plan. Barrett had been planning to make the last two commission appointments next year anyway, as soon as he fills the commission’s vacant executive director slot.
The mayor has already said he will push to get all 1,400 or so officers and dispatchers 40 hours of training on how to deal the mentally ill.
Police spokesman Mark Stanmeyer issued a statement saying the agency welcomes the aldermen’s interest. Michael Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, the union for the city’s officers, didn’t respond to an email message.
Alderman Joe Dudzik wants to see change, but said he’s worried the plan could create too many layers of bureaucracy.
“It’s nice my colleagues want to look like they’re doing something,” he said. “I want to take steps to improve the situation, not make it more cumbersome.”
Manney shot Hamilton after responding to a call of a man sleeping in the park. Manney found Hamilton on the ground and tried to frisk him. According to Manney’s account, Hamilton grabbed Manney’s baton and attacked him with it, forcing him to open fire.
Hamilton’s family has said Hamilton suffered from schizophrenia. Police Chief Edward Flynn fired Manney in October, saying Manney ignored department policy and treated Hamilton as a criminal by frisking him.
Chisholm spent eight months reviewing the incident. As the weeks went by, tension in the city mounted — fueled by anger over the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York. Hamilton’s family began staging protests, but they’ve been largely peaceful.
Chisholm finally announced his decision on Monday, saying Manney acted in self-defense. U.S. Attorney James Santelle announced hours later that federal investigators will look into the shooting but it’s done little to soothe Hamilton’s supporters.
Jon Safran, an attorney for Hamilton’s family, said he can’t find anything he disagrees with in the aldermen’s plan.
Demonstrators gathered at the park Tuesday evening, holding signs that read “Justice 4 Dontre.” An angrier crowd than those who gathered there Monday night chanted Hamilton’s name and “No justice, no compromise.” Hamilton’s brother, Nate Hamilton, led the group in a moment of silence and a prayer, saying, “We’re asking for justice, Lord.”
Then the protesters marched through downtown streets to the Bradley Center, where they surrounded the main entrance and blocked fans from entering the Milwaukee Bucks game. Several busloads of police officers then arrived and formed a path through the protesters with their bodies to allow fans to enter the arena, while the protesters shouted “Don’t arrest me, arrest the police” and “Dontre Hamilton.”
Chanting, “Black lives matter,” the protesters eventually marched back to the park without incident and dispersed.
TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press