The Coalition to March on the DNC held a peaceful rally on the final night of the mostly virtual Democratic National Convention on August 20, then marched behind the slogan “We Can’t Breathe” to demand that political leaders do more to stop the killing of Black people by police.
The “We Can’t Breathe” event was led by members of the Coalition to March on the DNC, and began at Red Arrow Park where Milwaukee native Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed in 2014 by a member of the city’s law enforcement. Maria Hamilton, Dontre’s mother, spoke to the large crowd that had gathered, amid angry shouts from a religious counter-rally of Trump supporters from out-of-state.
“I hear them talk about God,” Hamilton said in reference to the interruption. “But I’m not hearing them talk about love. I’m not hearing any empathy. Their hate can’t stop us from coming together. We are here, united in the fight.”
Since the death of her son, Hamilton has been an advocate against police brutality. She has also been a leading voice in conversations about the systematic mental health crisis that continues to overwhelm the nation. Hamilton said that she has been compelled to visit the site where Dontre was killed in order to spend time with him.
“Dontre’s smile and his bright spirit remain in the park,” she said.
Hamilton vowed to not “stop marching in the streets until the Trump administration was over.” She will be traveling to Washington DC with other mothers who lost children due to police brutality. Hamilton will arrive in time to meet up with Frank Nitty as his group completes its march from Milwaukee, on the 57th anniversary of the August 28, 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
A verbal altercation alongside the rally nearly accelerated into a serious scuffle when the religious group allegedly made a racial slur and implied a physical threat with their military-grade automatic weapons. As the Milwaukee Mounted Police tried to separate the two groups, they instead inflamed the situation. Black protesters felt targeted by the tactics, and the dozens of Milwaukee Police who quickly arrived on bicycles initially heightened tensions. Their withdrawal brought the incident to an end, and the focus of the rally returned to the speakers.
“It’s clear that Trump is provoking violence against protesters and encouraging police killings of Black and other people,” said Lauryn Cross, leader of the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, in a statement. “It’s Democrats who run the majority of the cities where cops get away with these murders.”
Survivors of other Wisconsin residents killed by police officers also spoke during the rally. The families of Alvin Cole, Jay Anderson, Jr., Antonio Gonzales, and Joel Acevedo have been at the center of the reignited movement against violent and illegal police misconduct in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.
Alvin Cole was 17-years old when he was shot in the back, and killed while running away at the Mayfair Mall on February 2, 2020.
Jay Anderson, Jr. was shot and killed after police found him sleeping in own his car along the side of the road in the early morning hours of June 23, 2016.
Antonio Gonzales was shot and killed in his own backyard on July 16, 2015 in the middle of what was clearly a mental health crisis. His landlord called the police because of personal concerns for his well-being, but what should have been a mental health intervention resulted in his death.
Joel Acevedo was murdered on the morning of April 19, 2020 following a house party held at the home of Milwaukee Police Officer Matt Mattioli, something that violated the state’s quarantine protocols in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Joel was strangled for longer than 10 minutes, and his murder is still under investigation.
Jonathon Tubby was murdered by Green Bay Police Officer Erik O’Brien on October 19, 2018. Officer O’Brien was cleared of all wrong doing and was actually promoted.
Dexter Baxter was shot three times and killed by Crandon Police Officer Ryan Wilson on October 22, 2017 after being pulled over as a suspect in an armed robbery.
Each of the family members spoke passionately about their tragic experiences in an effort to educate the public. The voices all spoke on the night that former Vice President Joe Biden accepted the Democratic nomination for President. The rally, and subsequent march, were notable for their size but unremarkable compared to weeks of Black Lives Matter protests in Milwaukee.
With thousands of delegates and international media watching the DNC activities from virtual locations, August 20’s “We Can’t Breathe” demonstration did not command a pre-coronavirus spotlight.
That condition was sadly reflected in everything related to the convention, with the city only seeing $3 million in economic revenue from an expected $200 million. No total has been released as to how much public and private money was invested over the past year in preparation.
These images document scenes from the rally and the march over several hours. A report and photo essay about just the counter-protesters was previously published as Milwaukee police nearly inflame scuffle between rally participants on final night of Democratic Convention.