As America recoils in horror at video images of the killing of George Floyd earlier this month, a Black Minnesota man, it is important to remember that this is a very old story. It’s old for those whose eyes were first opened when the first viral video record of racist police violence showed the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991 by Los Angeles police officers. It’s a much, much older story for those of African descent who have been living this nightmare since their ancestors’ arrival on these shores in shackles.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, racism struck down Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Now, George Floyd’s final, desperate declaration that he was unable to breathe is a haunting reminder of Eric Garner who died at the hands of police in New York. Not only does the horror never seem to end, but it also strikes very close to home. Just this week, we saw a video record of what appears to be the brutal beating of Sha’ Teina Grady El of Ypsilanti Township by a Washtenaw Sheriff’s deputy.
It all has to stop. Ironically, one important tool might be an act of police violence itself - the police killing of Milton Hall. Although nearly eight years have passed since the Hall killing by Saginaw police officers, the painful memory endures. It is not enough for his memory to endure. Mr. Hall’s story needs to be etched in stone. In fact, we’re trying to help make that happen, in the form of a memorial.
Mr. Hall was homeless, middle-aged and mentally ill. He posed no imminent threat of harm to police officers or anyone else as he yelled at the sky while standing in the middle of a parking lot on July 1, 2012. Nevertheless, officers called to the scene shot a total of 46 bullets at Hall because of what they claimed was a fear that he would use a pocketknife that he brandished when a leashed police dog barked and snapped at him from a distance that was far beyond Mr. Hall’s reach. That day Milton Hall became another in the long series of African Americans who lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement officers rarely held accountable for their use of excessive force.
The officers who participated in what some have characterized as a firing-squad execution were not charged with crimes even though the killing was captured in detail by police cameras. That video clearly shows the overwhelming and unnecessary force used against Mr. Hall. His death could easily have been avoided had police officers tried to de-escalate the situation peacefully, rather than ramp up tensions and rushing to end the situation in an unconscionable way. The county prosecutor justified his decision not to bring charges by claiming the officers acted in self-defense. Federal officials also failed to bring charges. The Hall family was able to pursue some measure of relief in the civil courts, but their pain was not fully addressed by that effort, and certainly the broader community has wounds that have not yet healed. That point was made clear when the ACLU People Power Tour held a townhall meeting in Saginaw last December.
The ACLU of Michigan, in cooperation with interested Saginaw community partners, hopes to promote healing and reform in Saginaw by calling for an official City proclamation condemning the conduct that caused the death of Milton Hall. A call will also be made for the installation of a memorial monument to Hall’s life.
Milton Sherman Hall was born on April 25, 1963 in Saginaw, Michigan, to his parents Fred J. and Jewel L. Hall. As a child Mr. Hall attended Saginaw schools, owned pets, and enjoyed sports – particularly football and fishing. His family described him as an avid reader, and as he grew older, he completed two years of college, attending Knoxville College and the University of New Mexico. He also underwent training to become a civil rights activist. Mr. Hall’s mother, a retired teacher, said evidence of a mental illness appeared early in Mr. Hall’s adult life and it may have “impacted his ability to work.” He became eligible to receive Social Security Disability payments.
Mr. Hall’s life should not have been taken by senseless violence. In addition to paying tribute to him as a loving and concerned son, student and activist, a monument will serve as a lasting reminder to police officers and all Saginaw citizens that excessive force is not condoned by either Saginaw city government or the citizens it serves. Because government responds to citizens, we call on civic associations, churches, social clubs, fraternities, sororities, neighborhood associations, lodges, professional associations, sports teams, reading circles and concerned individuals to contact Saginaw’s elected officials and let them know that you and your organization support the call for an official condemnation of the killing of Milton Hall and the construction of a memorial. Officials need to know that the idea enjoys the full support of the people who live, work and play in Saginaw because it will both help bring about closure and make possible the transformation of a tragedy into a triumph.
Mark P. Fancher is the staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project.