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Ald. Ashanti Hamilton appointed director of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention

It's big shoes to fill as Milwaukee experiences rising violent crime, particularly gun violence, in city streets.
Posted at 11:26 AM, Aug 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 09:40:32-04

MILWAUKEE — Alderman Ashanti Hamilton of the 1st District will lead Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention, after the mayor's office fired former Director Arnitta Holliman earlier this month amid ever-worsening rates of violent crime plaguing the city.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced Hamilton's appointment during a press conference Monday morning. Mayor Johnson invited Hamilton to the position and Hamilton accepted. The position is not elected.

"I do understand that our previous directors put in a lot of work, in helping people understand what violence as a public health issue is," said Hamilton. "We want to build on that work, we want to expand it, we want to ensure that we are measuring whether or not what we're doing is actually having an impact for the residents that live in this city."

When asked about the firing of the former director, Johnson said he won't discuss the matter "intimately."

"I think it is important that in this office and all offices that the story is told," the mayor said. "That we have the opportunity to relate to individuals whether they are elected on the Common Council or not. About the effectiveness of programs. And I feel we are in a position right now with Ashanti Hamilton taking lead in the office to do that."

Milwaukee Mayor announces new OVP director

It's big shoes to fill as Milwaukee experiences rising violent crime, particularly gun violence, on city streets. The OVP has received more than $16 million in funding but some have wondered if that money is being well spent. The office also only has 10 staff members, and reports to the mayor and the health commissioner.

Just-fired director of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention, Arnitta Holliman, described the mayor and commissioner's actions as "unwarranted and unprofessional" in a blistering statement on Monday.

Addressing the issue of whether the money is being spent correctly, Holliman said that the "scapegoating an office of less than 10 staff members and that currently receives no city tax-levy funding is not only ill-informed, but dangerous."

"It arranges a measure that all but guarantees failure for the next Director and OVP for the foreseeable future. A public health approach to violence prevention involves cross-sector partnerships that require support and investment. Unfortunately, OVP has never received adequate investment from the city, and for the past six years has had to pursue grants outside of city funding to support and sustain our work," according to Holliman.

Hamilton faced child abuse charges in 2009, but they were dropped after he took a plea deal.

"This is a reality that I had to go through, a learning experience that I had to grow through. I think we bring our life experiences to every position that we take. I brought that experience to my representation of the 1st aldermanic district. I brought that growth that understanding how to help families. I'll bring that to this position," Hamilton said.

"I think that he could do great things. Like I said I didn't have a problem with Arnitta, but I'm excited to see what Alderman Hamilton can do," said Shawn Muhammad, associate director at The Asha Project.

The Asha Project, which focuses on helping victims of domestic violence, has worked with OVP since it formed and even received funding to expand their efforts in the community.

Muhammad said he hopes Hamilton gets a real chance to make an impact in a time when violence is rising.

"I think they could benefit from having more staff as well because really they're like a small army that's doing a lot of work," Muhammad said.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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