I Belong to the Band of Mothers

The world is encircled by the band of mothers. I know each one in every place and each one knows me. I speak each one’s language and understand what she does. And if one handed me her child today, I would listen to her instructions and do my best without question. She would do the same for me.

We are the band of mothers.

I thought of this a few weeks ago while I listened to Maria Hamilton speak at a Milwaukee Mental Health Task Force meeting. She stood at one end of the room, having waited her turn on the agenda, patient with the other business being conducted, things that somehow needed to be dealt with before she could stand to explain the process that would determine whether the Milwaukee Police Officer who shot her unarmed son 15 times would be charged with a crime by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office.

I listened to her and I wondered how she could be so composed. She spoke almost like an attorney, her command of the facts and the process complete. She described the delays in the state’s investigation of the shooting and the D.A.’s long, unexplained review of its results. She told us that no one was keeping them informed; basic information was not being shared and she puzzled that such a basic consideration of a dead man’s family would not be observed. She talked about how upsetting it was for the Milwaukee Police Chief to label her son, Dontre Hamilton, as homeless and mentally ill. He wasn’t homeless, she said, “He had a loving family.”

I listened to her and I wondered why she wasn’t shrieking. How was she able to control her fury and her grief? Where did she find such battle armor? Her son is dead, I thought, but he had had an extraordinary mother. A mother who would not be weak when it came to raising him, helping him, protecting him, and defending his name. I am your sister, Maria Hamilton. I am part of the band of mothers that encircles the world but I am not your equal and I know that.

This morning when I read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s article about how the Milwaukee Police Department has lagged so badly on its commitment to providing Crisis Intervention Training to its officers, I thought again of Maria Hamilton.

Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) teaches techniques for law enforcement to use when dealing with a citizen in mental health crisis. The approach involves deescalation of crisis situations and strategies to connect people in great distress with family, friends, and resources that will lead to a non-violent resolution and avoidance of jail or involuntary commitment. It works, in other words. It would have worked for Dontre Hamilton had the officer who found him sleeping in the middle of the afternoon in a downtown park had the training. Instead a scuffle ensued which resulted in the officer going home to his family that night and Dontre Hamilton going to the morgue with 15 bullet wounds.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn told the newspaper that the CIT 40-hour training takes too much time. I wondered about that so I did the math. Forty hours of training would represent .0045% of an officer’s life in one year (8,760 hours) or 1.9% of his or her work time (2,080 hours on average).  Let’s say that instead of shooting Dontre Hamilton, the officer interacting with him had had CIT training and let’s say that as a result of that skilled intervention and a peaceful resolution, Dontre Hamilton lived ten more years, just ten more years. He would have 87,600 more hours on this earth.

He could have continued to work, found a new apartment that better suited him, found new resources to maintain his recovery, spent time with his family, watched football on Sunday afternoon, gone Christmas shopping with his mother, and laid down again on the green grass on a Spring day in Red Arrow Park and fallen asleep, safe and alive.

It’s a small price to pay – those forty hours of training- a small price to pay so a mother doesn’t have to describe the findings of the autopsy of her son and she doesn’t have to say out loud to a roomful of strangers that her son, her unarmed, frightened son, had been maimed and murdered by fifteen bullet wounds.

What happens now? What happens next? What changes?

I want the band of mothers to stand with Maria Hamilton. Not because this could happen to any one of us.

Because it happened to her.



6 Comments on “I Belong to the Band of Mothers

  1. We have a young man with schizophrenia in our small mountain town. On his bad days he will be in the middle of the street yelling obscenities at the people he sees, the voices he hears. We are lucky enough to have county sheriff deputies who know that approaching him in a confrontational manner will only escalate him. Instead they let him know that his argument with his friends is getting loud and scaring people, and would he mind taking that argument someplace private. He always calms down, apologizes, and agrees. These deputies also work repeatedly to try and get him into services but with limited success. The thing is, they work with him. They realize that to him, those voices are as real as they are. They treat him with respect and dignity. Now granted, there have been times when he has become violent, but those are extremely rare. I talk to this young man a lot. I ask him the things I ask my newly independent son – are you warm and dry, are you getting enough sleep, are you eating right. Last week he came to me very agitated, talking about satellite waves getting through, making some people violent, and the only protection was drinking lots of water. He wanted to make sure I was drinking that water. He did the same thing to the deputies. And like a deputy said to me – it was that young man’s way of returning the caring, his way of watching out for us. Not all days are that good for him, but I’m pretty dang proud of the deputies we have in this area. I believe it all comes down to empathy. And to me, as a mother, hoping that someday if my son was ever in a rough spot, someone will treat him with empathy. Sorry for the long post.

    • This is just the kind of treatment we all wish we all had from law enforcement and from our neighbors. What a kind, compassionate community. I want that for us — for Milwaukee and for every town. You have no idea how much I appreciated your telling me how it could be. Thank you — a lot.

      • We’re pretty lucky, and I hope no one in our community ever takes it for granted.

  2. I am outraged, and I’m not Dontre Hamilton’s mother. I can only begin to imagine what Maria Hamilton must be feeling. It seems he was also denied his anti-psychotic shots because he wasn’t insured. And we call ourselves ‘civilised’!

  3. A very beautiful post, Jan. I’m so glad you care. What kind of rationalization goes on with the police force who can’t see that each one of them might be the next to go home at night with the burden of having killed an innocent person. Why doesn’t the force demand the training in order to be better able to deal with problems non-violently.

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