Dontre Hamilton’s Family Fights for Justice in ‘The Blood is at the Doorstep’

By Sameer Rao Mar 15, 2017

"The Blood is at the Doorstep," which premiered at South by Southwest (SxSW) on Monday (March 13), follows Dontre Hamilton‘s family as they fight for justice. An unarmed Hamilton was killed in 2014 by then-Milwaukee Police Department officer Christopher Manney, who is White. As reenacted in the film, Manney approached and searched the 31-year-old, who struggled with paranoid schizophrenia, while he lie on the ground outside a Starbucks. Following an altercation in which Hamilton grabbed Manney’s baton, Manney fired 14 shots and killed the Black man.

Dontre’s death pushed his mother Maria Hamilton, who has since partnered with other Black mothers of men killed by police as the Mothers of the Movement, and brothers Nate Hamilton Jr. and Dameion Perkins into local activism as they organized with local activists to demand accountability.

First-time feature documentary director and video journalist Erik Ljung shadowed the Hamiltons at various protests in the months leading to Manney’s firing (which was upheld despite resistance from the local police union) and local and federal investigations that resulted in no charges against the officer. The film also depicts Maria and Nate’s conflicts with a local activist whose impassioned remarks during an action near BMO Harris Bradley Center, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, compelled numerous other participants to challenge a police line and risk arrest while attempting to enter the arena.

The film takes its name from a phrase repeated over a megaphone by Nate as he and other activists staged a die-in in front of Milwaukee County district attorney John Chisholm’s house. But the film does not just focus on the Hamilton family’s activism. It also features candid interviews with some of their opponents: police chief Edward Flynn, who blamed "bald-faced opportunists" for allegedly turning Hamilton’s killing from a mental health disparity issue to a race one; district attorney Chisholm, who said that his office was unable to find evidence of Manney’s criminal wrongdoing; and Dontre’s killer himself, who cited his Latinx nanny and mixed-race children as evidence of his non-racist intent. 

Responding to Colorlines’ question about Ljung’s inclusion of those interviews during the Q&A after the film’s second SxSW screening yesterday (March 14), Nate said those interviews were important for transparency. "We wanted our story to be honest and forthcoming of all information to give a clear picture of what we had to deal with," he said. "I don’t think that, if Erik would’ve just showed our family’s perspective, it would have been fair to the community because we need you to know everything."

"The Blood is at the Doorstep" does not yet have a distributor. Watch a trailer above. 

Culture Reporter Sameer Rao is in Austin this week covering race- and people of color-focused panels and events at South by Southwest. Check back for more posts throughout the week.