Dontre Hamilton was killed by a Milwaukee Police Officer on April 30, 2014, in Red Arrow Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The park is in the center of downtown, across the street from City Hall. It was in the afternoon. A Starbucks employee called the Milwaukee Police Department twice to complain about him sleeping near the park’s arrow sculpture.

Both times officers came to check on him, and after talking to Dontre Hamilton, left him alone and told the Starbucks staff that he was doing nothing wrong and they should stop calling. But the same Starbucks employee who called the first two times decided to call the cell phone of yet another Milwaukee Police Officer.

That officer came to the park, rousted Mr. Hamilton and an altercation ensued. Panicked, the officer shot Dontre Hamilton more than a dozen times, resulting in Mr. Hamilton’s death at the park. The officer, Christopher Manney, was later fired by the Police Department for a failure to follow correct procedure although he was never charged with a crime.

I wrote this poem which was recently published in Cries for Justice, Poems for Dontre Hamilton.

Dear Starbucks Barista           

You called not once

but over and over, ring after ring

until the answer you wanted came to the park

to roust the sleeping man who scared you so


You needed the sleeping man to go away

be gone, be somewhere else, leave the grass empty

So he went away, covered in a sheet and many mistakes

leaving yellow tape strung from tree to tree


If I was your mother

I’d comfort you, an error anyone could make

I’d defend you, build a soft wall of whitewashed blame

Lead you to recovery, celebrate Christmas and New Year’s


If I was your mother

I’d remember putting the fear in your bones

Crossing the street just to be sure, holding your hand tighter

Never speak to strangers, obey the rule, enforce it


If I was your mother

I’d want to shake the hand of the murdered man’s mother

Cross the street to join the demonstration, carry a sign

Pretend I am blameless, become part of the crowd, a blur