Mothers for Justice United was founded by Maria Hamilton of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after her son Dontre Hamilton was murdered by Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney on April 30, 2014. Dontre, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia two years before, had been resting in a Red Arrow Park in downtown on that mild spring afternoon. Employees of a nearby Starbucks called the police repeatedly with concerns about Dontre, who was not bothering anyone. After a team of officers responded on two separate occasions and found no issue with Dontre, Officer Manney apparently re-classified the complaint and responded alone. Manney conducted an out-of-policy pat down (for which he was subsequently fired from the police force), and went on to beat Dontre severely with his baton. Dontre struggled for the baton which was being used to subdue him. Officer Manney then shot Dontre fourteen times, which resulted in Dontre’s death.
Maria and her family tried to make sense of the tragic circumstances which took Dontre from them at the age of 31, and waited and worked to obtain justice for their son and brother. Maria came to know the suffering which has been visited on all too many black mothers whose children have been victims of police or vigilante violence. Unarmed young black men in particular have been effectively executed for minor crimes, such as jaywalking, suspected theft of cigars, selling loose cigarettes, shoplifting, or, as in the cases of Trayvon Martin and Dontre Hamilton, the noncriminal acts of making white people uncomfortable or fearful in public.
Maria determined to reach out to other bereaved mothers, in an effort to support each other and to advocate together for justice, and for a humane response and recognition from their fellow citizens. Thus began Mothers for Justice United and her work on the Mothers’ United Voices (MUV) project.
Maria and MFJU organized the Million Moms March that took place in Washington, D.C. on Mother’s Day Weekend – May 9-10, 2015, to have their voices heard, to demand justice for their murdered children and to put an end to the race-based policies of police and vigilante violence that harm communities of color. Her dream is to mobilize mothers across the United States to come together to stop the senseless killing of children.
Maria is involved in many projects. She is working with Angelique M. Davis, Associate Professor of Political Science, at Seattle University on the Mothers’ United Voices project, including research on this issue and a forthcoming book. In addition, the New York Times featured a short documentary titled, “In Wisconsin, a Trial Run for a New Law” about the Hamilton Family’s advocacy work. It won the top cash prize from the Brico Forward Fund at the 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival and is being made by Erik Ljung into a full-length film about Maria’s work titled “Mothers for Justice.”
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