Protesters hold news conference, say they're being targeted, arrested for exercising their rights

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The firestorm over Dontre Hamilton, shot and killed by former Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney on April 30th in Red Arrow Park made its way to Milwaukee Police Department's District 5. That's where a group of protesters held a news conference Monday, December 29th. This, one week after Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced no charges would be filed against Manney. Manney is appealing his termination from the police department.

Some of those who have been demonstrating since Hamilton was shot and killed say they feel like they're being punished and intimidated just for exercising their rights. On Monday, representatives with the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the state of Wisconsin joined the group -- saying they, too are seeking change.

A group of protesters gathered outside Milwaukee Police Department's District 5 on Monday, and they say they have a new message:

"No one in America should be stifled from their right of freedom of speech.  No one in America should not be able to say when they think they been done wronged and assert that by peacefully protesting," Attorney Verona Swanigan said.

Members of this group say they reject Chisholm's decision not to criminally charge Manney in Hamilton's death, and they now claim they're being targeted because they've been protesting.

"What they are doing is attacking us and protesters to silence us," one protester said during Monday's press conference.

Since Hamilton was shot, protesters have gathered often -- marching in the streets, oftentimes in downtown Milwaukee. On a couple of occasions, they made their way to Milwaukee County's freeway system (I-794 and I-43), The demonstration on I-43 resulted in 74 arrests.

Most recently, on Friday, December 26th, “Occupy the Hood” led a demonstration and protesters marched in Milwaukee — meeting near 27th and Burleigh. We're told a few protesters were taken into custody.

"If there`s 150 out here,  how do you choose?  Who you actually going to choose to pick on or prosecute?" State Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said.

Attorney Verona Swanigan says the protests have been peaceful and no one should have been punished. She feels so strongly, she's working pro bono to help the protesters fight their charges and citations.

"They should be heard and addressed.  Politicians should step forward who are in a position to make a change and actually listen to them,  heed their issues and make a difference," Swanigan said.

SenatorTaylor (D-Milwaukee) and Milwaukee Alderman Ashanti Hamilton joined in on the discussion Monday. They say they want other options so protesters don't feel the streets are the only way they'll be heard.

"What do we have to do to create a communication system so people don`t have to protest in order to be heard?" Senator Taylor said.

A Milwaukee Police Department spokesman didn't comment specifically on the message from Monday's press conference, but said when it comes to protesters getting arrested, police have been very lenient and have allowed organized peaceful demonstrations -- but he added police do not condone disorderly conduct they've witnessed at some demonstrations.

Milwaukee police have issued this statement to FOX6 News:

"As Chief Flynn has said many times, our mission is to protect life, First Amendment rights, and property, in that order.  The Milwaukee Police Department continues its practice of facilitating protests, including demonstrations against the police.  We continue to prefer that protesters obtain permits or inform us of their route of march.  Law enforcement action is required when the behavior of the protesters endangers their safety or the safety of others.  The incident near 27th and Burleigh last Friday afternoon quickly devolved from a so-called protest into a disorderly congregation.  As a result, reports have been referred to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office for consideration of charges against the instigators."

CLICK HERE for further coverage of the Dontre Hamilton case via