Interview with Nate Hamilton: ‘My brother’s killing has opened my eyes’

Nate Hamilton and his family are still fighting for justice for Dontre Hamilton, who was shot 14 times and killed by Milwau­kee police officer Christopher Manney on April 30, 2014. The Hamilton family, along with community supporters, then formed the Coalition for Justice, which since May 2014 has organized some of the largest demonstrations for justice and against police terror in Milwaukee’s history.

On Dec. 22, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said he wouldn’t pursue any criminal charges against Manney, alleging Manney acted in self-defense. The same day the Milwaukee office of the Department of Justice’s United States Attorney issued a statement stating it would undertake a federal review of the case to determine if — under federal civil rights law — there is a legal and factual basis for a federal civil rights prosecution. The Hamilton family met with federal officials on Jan.16, but have not heard from the Justice Department since then.

In response to mass protests, Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission in March upheld Manney’s firing by the police chief for violating departmental protocols — not for murder — during his accosting of Hamilton. Manney has appealed this decision in Milwaukee County Court. He still receives a pension.

Besides building the Coalition for Justice and Mothers United for Justice, while they fight for justice for Dontre, members of the Hamilton family have supported numerous progressive causes. Nate Hamilton, Dontre’s brother, recently supported Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998’s struggle for a just contract and the protest against Gov. Scott Walker on July 13 in Waukesha when Walker announced he was running for president.

Workers World Contributing Editor ­Bryan G. Pfeifer interviewed Nate Hamilton July 8 at All People’s Church in Milwaukee after a Coalition for Justice meeting.

Nate Hamilton (right front) with transit union members demanding a just contract.Photo: Joe Brusky

Nate Hamilton (right front) with transit union members demanding a just contract.
Photo: Joe Brusky

Workers World: What is the status of Dontre’s case right now?

Nate Hamilton: It’s in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department, the Civil Rights Division in Washington that is handling the investigation at this point. Mel Johnson, the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Milwaukee, passed it off to them to look it over, to review the decisions he had found. Now we’re just in limbo waiting for something to happen.

WW: What are your observations and experiences with the Coalition for Justice?

NH: I’ve seen a lot of community leaders. How can we get all of these community leaders to come together, to work together? Whether it’s economic or it’s social, we all want the same thing — that’s a better place to live. There’s been a gap and we’ve been trying to bridge that gap, showing people that we can work together, come together and support each other. We might not agree with everything, but some things we do agree on. We can work together to accomplish the ultimate goal and that’s justice in our poverty-stricken community. We have to come together and work on these things. We can only do it collectively.

WW: The ATU Local 998 conducted a three-day work stoppage from July 1 to 4 in Milwaukee and is still fighting for a just contract. You participated in many protests during the work stoppage. Why is the Coalition for Justice supporting the transit workers?

NH: The fight for my brother touched me. When I see people stand up for a cause against a system that oppresses, a system that deprives people of what’s rightfully theirs, I support that. The transit workers’ pensions are rightfully theirs. They worked for that. To strip them of that and their other benefits after putting in so much work is totally wrong.

So anytime I can encourage someone to stand up against the people who hold dollar signs over our heads — and we stand up against that — I’m there. I want to support anyone who says we’re not taking it any more. When it’s about people’s lives, people taking care of their children, people working 30 or 40 years and putting it all on the line for a company and that company doesn’t want to give back, I’m compelled to offer anything I can to the struggle so they can be successful in their fight.

WW: There are now growing connections between the Black Lives Matter movement and organized labor, and as you described, we are seeing this in Milwaukee with the Coalition for Justice and ATU 998. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and other Wall Street forces are promoting policies and programs that are racist and harm people of color and unions. Do you have any comment on these developments?

NH: We look at the right-to-work law we suffer from. In Milwaukee, we lack good jobs. A lot of good jobs are given to people who [live] outside of the Milwaukee area. It cuts down our ability to provide for people in this city. A lot of that money is going to other counties, other districts.

But when you look at the union, the union protects. The union strengthens the people, gives them some type of protection. When they try and take that protection away from people and allow elected officials or higher-ups to shrink the working class, that’s completely wrong. My brother’s killing has opened my eyes to all of the other fights, all of the other disadvantages that our people are suffering from.

I have to be a part of it. I have to put some energy toward it, and maybe give some insight about these situations, so that I can raise my kids to be more aware, more conscious of the community that they live in.

WW: You suggested to the Coalition for Justice members tonight [July 8] that they support the “Oppose Scott Walker’s Wall Street Agenda” protest on July 13 in Waukesha. That day, Walker will announce his intention to run for U.S. president. Why did you suggest coalition members and supporters participate in that protest?

NH: For one thing, when it came to this nation’s problem about police brutality, where was Scott Walker? He was nowhere to be found. He’s only worried about his personal agenda. He’s doing so many things behind closed doors, and then he presents them to people, thinking that it works for us. Wisconsin is built off of the hard work of Milwaukeeans. A lot of their revenue comes from Milwaukee’s work. And we’re not respected.

Scott Walker doesn’t give this state the attention that it needs — so how can he give the nation the appropriate attention that it needs? He hasn’t upped the job level in Milwaukee. Walker is destroying low-income people in Milwaukee. He’s trying to change public open record laws. He’s trying to change so much. Do these things benefit the working people here in our community? No. It really helps [officials] hide more information, to be more secretive.

This is the “democracy” that I thought I lived in, but it really seems like it’s a dictatorship when it comes to Scott Walker. We will not live under his dictatorship in Wisconsin — nor in our nation.

WW: Any last words?

NH: The importance of this movement — the Black Lives Matter movement, the movement against injustice — can never die. It can never stop. We can never let up. We always have to continue to press the issues. We have to continue to aggravate. We have to hold the people opposing us and committing injustice accountable. We can’t turn our backs on injustice. We can’t turn our backs on the movement. We can’t turn our backs on the poor.

For more information on the struggle for justice for Dontre Hamilton, see and #DontreHamilton.