Clearing the FOG speaks with two guests who are part of bold actions to demand justice for families and accountability for police who get away with murder. Maria Hamilton’s 31 year old son Dontre was killed in April, 2014. He was unarmed and sleeping in a public park when he was shot 14 times and killed by Officer Christopher Manney. Maria started Mothers For Justice United and is organizing the Million Moms March in Washington, DC on May 9. Carmen Perez of the Justice League NYC is currently leading a 250 mile walk from New York City to Washington, DC called the March 2 Justice to demand three new laws to address police accountability and militarization.
Relevant articles and websites:
In Their Shoes: A Profile of the Justice Champions Marching for Change by the Justice League
Maria Hamilton‘s son Dontre was murdered on April 30, 2014 by Officer Christopher Manney. Dontre, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia two years before, had been resting in a downtown park 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.
Maria’s dream is to travel with the other mothers to Washington, D. C. on Mother’s Day weekend–May 9 -10, 2015–to make their voices heard in the halls of government, to demand justice for their murdered children, and to put an end to the race-based policies of police and vigilante violence in minority communities.
Carmen Perez has been an activist nearly her entire life. After the death of her 19 year-old sister when she was just 17, Carmen began to restore herself by dedicating her life to transforming the lives of young people.
After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Psychology in 2001, Carmen was dedicated to the pursuit of advocating for young men and women, and providing comprehensive leadership training and opportunities for individuals in and out of the criminal justice system. In 2006, Carmen went to work for the Santa Cruz County Probation Department as a bilingual Probation Officer. With an all-female intensive caseload, Carmen worked tirelessly to provide appropriate programs and re-entry services for young women in the juvenile justice system. She looked critically within the system to reduce racial disparities and advocated for monolingual Spanish speaking families. She helped implement gender-specific services that incorporated sexual trauma counseling through art therapy, teen-parent mediation, and eventually co-founded an evening program for girls called Girlzpace.
Her work in Santa Cruz was well-known in the community and across the country. Carmen is the founder of the youth leadership group R.E.A.L. (Reforming Education, Advocating for Leadership) and Co-Founder of The Girls Task Force, which is dedicated to improving gender-specific services to better support all girls in our communities. Carmen was also responsible for developing the idea of supporting youth speaking out on their own vital issues. She created and supported the “Youth Summit” concept where young people came together to discuss solutions on serious topics such as drug and alcohol reform, detention alternatives, gangs, and violence. Recommendations that came out of the group discussion were often presented and adopted by community and state-wide policy makers throughout California
In 2002, Carmen went to work for Barrios Unidos in Santa Cruz – an organization dedicated to providing non-violence training and re-entry services for the incarcerated, and establishing an Institute for peace and community development in Santa Cruz and across the country. She flourished in her work with Barrios Unidos and traveled the country providing services and programs on behalf of the organization.
In 2005, while working for Barrios Unidos, Carmen met the man who would influence the next decade of her life – Harry Belafonte. Mr. Belafonte had just founded The Gathering for Justice, and was organizing huge masses of marginalized communities in non-violent settings across the country – and he invited Carmen to be a part of it. Through her work at Barrios Unidos, and a member of The Gathering, Carmen served both organizations while continuing to build her own programs focused on young girls and youth justice.
In 2008 Carmen became the National Organizer of The Gathering for Justice and in 2010 she was promoted to Executive Director of the organizer. Carmen’ s work with The Gathering allows her the opportunity to provide additional capacity and coalition building to the organization’s targeted US cities where she bridges the gap between government institutions, emerging & non- traditional leaders, and inner-city youth.
As Executive Director of The Gathering, Carmen has crossed the globe promoting peace, interconnectedness, and alternatives to incarceration and violence while collaborating in national policy presentations. She has organized cultural, spiritual and educational events and provided support to individuals incarcerated in juvenile detention centers and inside California’s and New York’s prisons.
In 2011, after moving her base of operations to New York, Carmen was tapped to help develop Purple Gold, a young worker’ s program that engages and cultivates the membership of 1199SEIU’s 35-and-under members, while setting the future for the Labor Movement. For two years she directed Purple Gold’s operations and program development across the boroughs of New York City.
Carmen has been featured on several TV programs and in numerous articles, and is the 2008 recipient of United Way’s “Community Hero Award,” and Santa Cruz County Women’s Commission “Trailblazer’s Award in Criminal Justice.” She was presented a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for Outstanding and Invaluable Service to the Community, and received the “Zaragoza Award” from the Committee for the Mexican Culture at D.V.I. Prison in Tracy, for her contribution and dedication to bringing hope to incarcerated men. In May of 2014, she had the opportunity to share her life’s work and delivered her 1st TEDx Talk inside Ironwood State Prison hosted by Richard Branson and produced by Scott Budnick. She has recently been accepted into the Women’s Media Center Progressive Women’s Voices Class of 2014.
Carmen recently left the position of Chair for the Santa Cruz County Latino Affairs Commission after serving seven years. She is currently on the Board of Directors of Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos, Scholar League in Brooklyn, New York, and sits on the Advisory Board of The Baltimore City Youth Resiliency Institute. She is co-founder of The Brain Trust, and recently founded Justice League NYC.